Over the objections of the owner of the neighboring Sawmill Cafe, the Seaside Park planning board on Tuesday night partially approved a request by the owner of Funtown Beach to expand the attractions on his oceanfront property.
Funtown Beach, owned by William Major, is a private beach where Funtown Pier stood before it was destroyed in 2013 boardwalk fire. Since being denied permission to rebuild the pier with tall thrill rides, Major has operated the property as a BYOB beach club with cabanas. This year, Major proposed adding a food concession trailer, about a dozen barbecue grills for customers, a playground for children as well as tiki huts and 30 additional cabanas east of the newly-construction dune line.
The board approved all but two of Major’s requests – the charcoal grills and the food concession trailer. The application was opposed by DJ D’Onofrio, owner of the Sawmill Cafe, which also operates a tiki bar on the beachfront, though with a liquor license. D’Onofrio’s attorney, John A. Giunco, argued that Major’s plan required use variances for the cabanas, food stand and playground, however the board rejected it, deciding that since all of the proposed amenities are non-permanent structures, the uses fit within the property’s zoning.
“The uses he’s proposing are already permitted in this zone,” said Melanie Szuba Appleby, Major’s attorney. “The cabanas are already something that have been approved by this board – they are temporary structures.”
The board rejected outright the charcoal grills, with several board members raising concerns of a fire risk, especially given the strong prevailing south winds that characterize the beachfront through most of the summer.
“I have a problem with the grills,” said board member Frank Losey. “Any type of open fire on the beach, I don’t know how it’s ever going to be overseen and supervised. Any spark or anything like that, there’s a fire potential.”
The remainder of the board members concurred. Next, the board took up the question of the food concession. While concessions are allowed uses in the boardwalk zone, Giunco called on Barbara Ehlen, a professional planner, to testify that food trucks are not permitted uses in the zone.
“The applicant is providing something akin to a food truck but not mitigating the effects of a food truck,” said Ehlen, referencing the lack of restrooms and a codified refuse disposal plan in the proposal.
The board ultimately decided that the language in the local ordinance that would, in theory, cover food trucks was designed to limit the number of ice cream trucks in the borough. Appleby argued that a concession trailer is not necessarily a motor vehicle.
Board members expressed frustration over a lack of detailed information about the food concession trailer. Major produced an outline of his site plan, however he could not provide details on the exact size of the trailer, how it would be powered, whether it would require a hard surface underneath or how his business would handle the extra refuse that is produced. The board also said the Ocean County Health Department should review the plan as it relates to restrooms, which were not included in the site plan. Major said he would rely on nearby public restrooms (ironically, owned by D’Onofrio) like other boardwalk businesses.
Appleby agreed to withdraw the request for the trailer from the application, though she and Board Chairman Michael Giuliano agreed that Major could return to the board at its next meeting to provide additional information and guidance from the county health department.
The board approved the remainder of the Funtown Beach proposal, conditioned on state Department of Environmental Protection approval. Giunco argued that the project should require a CAFRA (Coastal Areas Facilities Review Act) permit from the DEP, however Major previously received a letter expressing that the state had no interest in regulating his business in the past when he rented ATVs for a season. The board will require Major to contact the state with regard to the new plan and ensure no additional permits are needed.
“Our clients are not suggesting that this business should not exist … they are simply stating that this application should comply with the applicable laws and regulations,” Giunco said.
Appleby dismissed the objector’s concerns.
“It’s a competitor trying to delay an application and use taxpayer money and time over private competition,” she said.
According to its website, Funtown Beach will be open weekends in June and open daily beginning June 21. The beach will maintain its BYOB policy and offer $10 daily badges, $35 weekly badges and $55 season badges.