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Negotiations ‘Ongoing’ As Ortley Beach Residents Call on Toms River to Buy Surf Club Property

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The former Joey Harrison’s Surf Club property, March 12, 2019. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

A “once in a lifetime” opportunity is available for Toms River to expand its public beaches and boardwalk, as well as energize the business community in Ortley Beach, neighborhood residents told the township council recently, as officials mull the purchase of the former Surf Club property on the oceanfront.

“Negotiations are ongoing with regard to the former Surf Club property,” Township Administrator Don Guardian told Shorebeat. “There have been two counter proposals but no agreement to date with owners.”

The Barcelona family operated the noted bar, restaurant and nightclub for decades, but never rebuilt the iconic watering hole after it was destroyed in Superstorm Sandy. It has been mostly demolished, though portions of its outer shell – including a fading mural of its logo – remain.

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Thanks to changes in ownership following the federal beach replenishment project that was completed earlier this year, Toms River now owns the beaches in front of the former Surf Club. Those were previously privately owned by the establishment.

“There are two convenient walkovers at each end of the property and two additional life guard stands were added this year,” said Guardian. “This has effectively added one-third additional beach to Ortley this summer in addition to the wider beach that resulted with the beach replenishment.”

Ortley Beach residents say the purchase of the Surf Club property would allow Toms River to offer more events along the beachfront, add parking so more township residents would choose their hometown beaches instead of going to neighboring communities, and bring more people to the neighborhood year-round as the business community rebuilds along Route 35.

The township has applied for $10 million in state grant funding for the purchase. Toms River could also utilize its local open space fund for all or part of the purchase. In recent years, most of the open space money has gone toward buying up parcels in North Dover to prevent them being developed, and Ortley Beach residents say the Surf Club property is just as important to the long-term health of Toms River.

“The purchase is imperative because it is a one-time opportunity,” said Toni Tomarazzo, an Ortley Beach resident who is also a member of the Ortley Beach Voters and Taxpayers Association, which has been spearheading the effort to get the township to purchase the land. “If that property is allowed to be developed – and we can all agree on one thing, it’s a timely proposition –  it will never be cheaper than now to do it.”

“Those ratables, as everyone knows and as every administrator in the state knows, will never have the value that securing open public space will,” she continued. “The property values around that area will skyrocket – the ratables will exceed any type of income you could get from a new property.”

Anthony Colucci, another Ortley Beach resident and OBVTA member, said most of Toms River’s open space purchases have not been geared toward recreational spaces that could be used for residents. He told members of the township council that the additional space would make Ortley Beach a more attractive destination for the town as a whole.

“It’s not just Ortley Beach that enjoyed it – it’s all of Toms River’s people that came across the bridge as traffic was crazy,” he said. “We backed up Route 37, it was a wonderful beach season for everyone.”

Guardian has said officials have envisioned a plan where the boardwalk would be physically widened near the property to about the width of the Atlantic City boardwalk. A community center or other recreational facility is a possibility for the site, as well as additional parking spaces. The two sections of the township’s boardwalk would then connect, making the two new beach entrances more accessible.

Open space should be “used and enjoyed,” Colucci said.

“Toms River must make this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity possible,” he pleaded.