It has been a long road for many victims of Superstorm Sandy, including some whose lives may never fully recover from the financial and emotional impact of the storm. But more than a decade after the region was struck with Sandy’s wrath, one community on Ocean County’s northern barrier island will have a new meetingplace to enjoy the Shore.
Ocean Beach III, a private community in which residents own their homes – but not the land under them, which is owned by a family business dating back to the 1950s – received approval from Toms River Township’s planning board Wednesday night to construct a new clubhouse just off Route 35 on Heron Way. The existing clubhouse is in poor shape, having been designated “significantly damaged” after the storm, meaning more than half its value was destroyed. The new clubhouse will be two stories, comply with modern flood regulations and combine the community’s office with the typical amenities of a beach community’s clubhouse, such as a snack stand and space for activities. A portion of the building will also be available for members to rent, where they can hold family parties and similar gatherings.
According to the club’s application, the top level of the clubhouse will house a general meeting area, the OB3 Club Office and two bathrooms. The lower level will house a kitchen for concessions, room for games, two additional bathrooms, along with an elevator and stairs to the second level. The pole barn will measure 24-by-30 feet in area, and will placed in the current corral area to the north of the clubhouse. This will be used to store maintenance equipment and trucks.
The board unanimously approved the application by Ocean Beach III to build the new clubhouse, but a few board members expressed sympathy for objectors while doing so after hearing statements of a few residents who said they opposed an assessment levied by the community, the selling-off of a parking area to fund a larger clubhouse than before, as well as placing the clubhouse in an area which repeatedly floods during regular full-moon high tides.
The objections, however, were largely considered to be outside the scope of the board’s jurisdiction, which is the implementation of the state’s Municipal Land Use Law. By the letter of the law, Ocean Beach III made its case and complied with township regulations, effectively obligating board members to vote in favor of approval. Ultimately, state environmental officials determined where a new clubhouse could be constructed along the bayfront, and representatives said parking concerns could be alleviated through the use of an overflow lot.
“It was approved by two or three [state] agencies, and a lot of your questions have to do with your community – the board members, or whoever runs this,” planning board member David Ciccozzi, who also serves on the township council, told the few who objected. “We have 900-plus members, and all of this should have been taken care of before this even got here. I understand where you’re coming from, but all of your objections have to do with them, not us.”
There were only about a half-dozen members of the community who objected out of more than 900, with most of those who opposed the construction of the clubhouse complex having purchased their homes after Superstorm Sandy. The Ocean Beach III association sold a parcel of land, raised beach badge fees, conducted fundraising and will sell the existing office to fund the project, which is estimated to fall between $750,000 and $1 million. The assessment levied upon residents was $300 per lot, completed in 2022.
A longtime resident, Pat O’Shea, supported the effort.
“We have investigated and looked into the moving of the clubhouse – it’s not feasible,” she said, suggesting the character of the community should not change simply because people drive more cars and take up more space than they did a half-century ago. “Parking is a problem – this community was built in the 1950s for people with one car. This was, and always has been, a walking community.”
The attractive design of the new clubhouse is a significant upgrade over the previous facility, a one-story building that was decommissioned in 2021. Residents had no meetingplace or location for activities last summer. The 5,500 square foot clubhouse will be paired with a pole-barn style building, built in a similar style and color, that will be used for storage.
Christine Sousa, a resident whose home is close to the clubhouse location, said she opposed the project due to a lack of parking.
“There is never one spot open – never,” she said. “The overflow parking is always full. If I do decide to have a party at my house, with my family, I’m asking people to smush people into cars because we can literally only fit two small cars.”
She also said the area is prone to flooding, which was acknowledged by both board members and other residents, however the development plan was reviewed by the state Department of Environmental Protection and underwent numerous engineering studies, ultimately leading its designers to fit the proposed building within the confines of modern flood regulations.
“I’ve lived on the water for over 50 years,” said planning board member John Wnek. “I knew what to expect when I moved here, it’s a choice I made, and I’ve loved every minute of it.”
According to Ocean Beach III representatives who spoke at the planning board meeting, the minimum elevation of the first floor will be 9-feet, and the community’s CAFRA permit from the DEP mandates the area below the lowest finished floor must remain “open and accessible to the passage of floodwaters at all times.”
It is expected that the existing clubhouse building will soon be demolished. Once the planning board memorializes its approval at its next meeting, construction can begin, though representatives from the community did not say whether work would begin immediately or until after the summer season.
Construction is expected to take between six to eight months to complete.