Seaside Heights officials, following a series of discussions over the past weekend, issued a multi-phased plan for reopening the borough’s internationally famous beach and boardwalk, but with major social distancing restrictions in place that could change depending on the status of the coronavirus pandemic.
Mayor Anthony Vaz said his town is still waiting on guidance from the state as to how future regulations may affect operations – a major point of contention that was part of a lengthy discussion at a borough council meeting last week. Some of the restrictions that will be imposed, the mayor said, are not directly related to health issues, but instead the financial and societal instability that has led to a serious staffing shortage.
“Our team met [Saturday] and finalized an initial plan that will take us through June 30,” said Mayor Anthony Vaz. “Although we believe many of the restrictions will remain in place for the entire summer, we are still patiently waiting – well, perhaps less patiently at this point – for guidance from Governor Murphy.”
The plan calls for beach and the boardwalk to reopen May 15, this coming Friday. A number of entranceways will allow access to the beach, but only between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. All of the entranceways will be staffed by borough personnel.
The entrances can be found at: Blaine Avenue, Franklin Avenue, Hiering Avenue, and Hancock Avenue.
Between the May 15 reopening and May 22, the borough will implement rules governing the first phase of access. Activities on the beach during the initial phase will be limited to:
- Active surf fishing.
No swimming will be allowed and red flags will be posted. No beach chairs or blankets will be allowed on the beach. No sitting or standing will be allowed – “please keep moving,” the announcement said. No coolers will be allowed and dogs are prohibited from being on the beach.
The beach and boardwalk will be cleared by 5 p.m. and no further access will be allowed afterwards. The gates to access the sand will be locked.
Social distancing is required – specifically, keeping six feet between persons and refraining from gathering in large groups. Wearing a face mask is encouraged, but not required, “unless a superseding state order requiring face masks is issued.”
Gatherings of 10 people are more will be prohibited and restrooms will be closed, the plans states. Shower pedestals and water fountains will remain shrink-wrapped and unavailable, and visitors are encouraged to avoid leaning on railings or sitting on benches.
There will also be changes to the borough’s parking capacity during this time.
All private commercial parking lots and public metered parking will be reduced to 50 percent capacity, and several municipal parking lots will be closed: the Grant Avenue lot, Hiering Avenue lot, Sampson Avenue lot, “free parking” lot at Webster Avenue and Bay Boulevard, and the boardwalk street-end parking areas.
In addition to the 50 percent limit on available parking spaces, private commercial parking lots will be subject to a Local State of Emergency Order prohibiting parking charges in excess of $45 per day.
As for events, the borough has canceled its Monday night concert series, tribute band concert series, Big Joe Henry Show, overnight beach camping, and Wine On The Beach. No busker or roving performer permits will be issued through June 30. The status for events planned for July and August will be announced in the near future.
Changes Beginning May 23 – Including Beach Badges
The second phase will begin May 23 and run through June 30. The town’s plan calls for gates to be be open at 7 a.m. for access to the boardwalk and limited access to the beach at 9 a.m. from Blaine Avenue, Franklin Avenue, Dupont Avenue, Hiering Avenue, Carteret Avenue, and Hancock Avenue.
Swimming will still be prohibited, as well as coolers and dogs, but sunbathing will be allowed. The beach will no longer be limited to specific activities.
At this point, a season beach badge or senior beach badge will be required for beach entry. Season beach badges and senior beach badges must be purchased using the Viply smartphone app or through Viply’s website. There will be no sales of beach badges on the boardwalk.
“We do not anticipate selling daily wristbands during Phase 2,” the plan states.
Beaches will continue to be cleared at 5 p.m. with no additional access allowed, and the boardwalk will close at 11 p.m.
Social distancing rules will remain in effect, though masks will not be required. During this period, restrooms may be open on a limited basis
Showers and water fountains will continue to be shrink-wrapped and unavailable, and the public will still be asked to avoid touching railings or sitting on benches.
The current ban on rentals via online marketplaces such as Airbnb and VRBO will continue through May 31.
Beginning June 1, short-term rental restrictions contained will be amended to permit motels, hotels, and multi-family dwellings (defined as homes with three or more units) to rent “not more than 25 percent of available units.”
Other rentals units will be released from the order.
Bay Beach Rules
Seaside Heights will also have rules set for access to its bayfront beach.
The North Bayfront boat ramp will be open during the Phase 1 period. At the north bayfront, the beach, boardwalk and dock will beopen.No personal watercraft or boats will be permitted to beach on the shoreline.
Social distancing rules will also apply to the south bayfront areas.
Swimming will be off limits.
Vaz said the prohibition on swimming could be re-examined as temperatures rise, but staffing shortages and financial uncertainty have driven many of the restrictions.
“In addition to whatever restrictions are imposed by state government on restaurants, bars, retail stores and amusements, we have the added problem at the local government level of a likely and substantial loss of revenue that has led to a reduction in manpower resources,” said Vaz. “This means less beach attendants, less lifeguards and less seasonal laborers. Many of the restrictions that we have developed arise from the budget crisis we are working through.”
The town “cannot sustain beach and boardwalk operations on the backs of local taxpayers,” Vaz said.
“We will be very prepared to seek compliance from visitors. But please, everybody, do your part to comply with our restrictions, use social distancing, and help stop the spread of COVID-19 while supporting local businesses,” said borough Emergency Management Coordinator Erik Hershey. “We can accomplish both if we all accept personal responsibility for our behavior.”