A parking area in Ortley Beach is on the cusp of state approval to become a parking area again, officials announced this week.
The lot is located between Sixth and Seventh avenues along the Oceanfront and once served as the parking lot for the popular Joey Harrison’s Surf Club, which is destroyed in Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Since then, the township – utilizing state preservation funding – has acquired both the Surf Club site on the beachfront itself, and the property that includes the parking area across the street. It has not been able to be used, however, since state approval was required since the land was purchased using state funds. The township was also instructed to remove what remained of the blacktop paving on the parcel.
Discussions on using the property as a parking area again have now been conducted with the expectation that the state Department of Environmental Protection will approve the plan, officials said this week.
“We were able to have a pre-application meeting with the DEP a couple weeks ago,” said Township Engineer Robert Chankalian. “We’re going to repave it at some point, when the final approvals are in-hand.”
Mayor Maurice “Mo” Hill said the stated timeline to approve the use of the lot for parking is 90 days, however historically such applications have faced delays, especially in the post-pandemic era. The township had initially asked if the lot could be used for parking with a clam shell surface, but officials sought clarity on the final decision of the state before spending money on the materials. Now, it appears that the lot can be resurfaced with asphalt.
“We might get it done for next summer, but I can’t guarantee it,” said Chankalian, echoing concerns about delays in permitting.
Chankalian said the township’s application includes larger buffers to separate the parking lot from neighboring properties. It will be submitted to the DEP as a CAFRA (Coastal Area Facilities Review Act) application shortly. Increasing parking for residents and visitors was part of the township’s pitch to purchase the property, which had been proposed for development with condominiums before that application stalled.
As for the piece of property on which the Surf Club itself was once located, there was still no timeline as to when – or if – the township will be able to develop any recreational amenities there.
“The state is totally in control of that piece,” said Hill.
The township council and other officials, at the time of the purchase, planned to extend the borough’s boardwalk and potentially build a small gazebo or meeting place there, however their counterparts in Trenton have not given any indication as to what it would be willing to approve. Some of the state funding used for the purchase was taken from so-called “Blue Acres” funding, which is generally used to purchase and preserve flood-prone private properties, which are usually restricted from being the site of any future development. The Surf Club, being located within an oceanfront area already used for recreation, may represent an exception, officials believe.
The reconstruction of several privately-owned condominium units, which were not part of the Surf Club property, is underway now.
The $7.3 million acquisition was born out of the partnership between Toms River Township, Ocean County and the state, with negotiations between the public agencies and the Barcelona family – the longtime owner of the site – handled by a mediator whose services were paid for by the Ortley Beach Voters and Taxpayers Association.
The township’s contribution of $685,000 toward the $7.3 million acquisition was financed through the sale of land near Cattus Island County Park and Ocean County College to the county. The remainder was funded through the state programs.