The Toms River Township council on Wednesday night passed a resolution authorizing a management and use agreement with the state Department of Environmental Protection that would allow some improvements to the site of the former Joey Harrison’s Surf Club.
The council voted unanimously to pass the agreement, which sets the terms for maintenance of the property and allows the township to develop and implement a plan to improve it. The Surf Club purchase technically included multiple properties along the beachfront as well as a large parking area between Sixth and Seventh avenues on the Oceanfront street. The agreement calls for the township to manage the properties.
“This is both properties – the portion on the beach and the former parking lot,” said Township Engineer Robert Chankalian. “This use agreement allows us to move forward with the application for the boardwalk and parking lot improvements, and it also has other components in there about how to police it and maintain it.”
Shorebeat has requested a copy of the agreement, which was not available until passage, however Chankalian said it will allow for the paving of the parking lot as well as the extension of the boardwalk and beach access points.
“This is the final piece between the township and the state to be able to occupy that property,” said Council President Matthew Lotano. “Once this is finalized, we can start processes for using the property and maintaining the property.”
Anthony Colucci, president of the Ortley Beach Voters and Taxpayers Association, which funded mediation between the nightclub’s former owner, the township and the state on the purchase and preservation of the property, requested the group have the opportunity to provide input toward the final plan for development at the site. He also asked that the township consider lessening the impervious coverage that the fully-paved lot once hosted, which produced drainage issues.
“By virtue of removing some of the asphalt, there will be a benefit in drainage,” said Chankalian. “The DEP has already reviewed that and agrees with that, so we are moving forward. The DEP, frankly, has pretty much shaped all the developments with this, so we are pretty limited in what we can do, but we’ll be working with them to get whatever permits we can.”
Township Attorney Gregory P. McGuckin said the state has only narrowly granted Toms River permission to perform improvements at the site, and agreeing to the state’s terms for management was the only path forward.
While many of the details have yet to be filled-in, the question as to whether the acquisition will allow the township to develop a parking lot and extend the boardwalk into the former Surf Club area has been effectively confirmed. At one time, the township had proposed more recreational features for the property, including beach amenities and, potentially, a building, however officials received pushback from the state agency since Blue Acres funding was utilized for the purchase. That fund normally is used toward taking repeatedly-flooded properties out of private ownership and disallowing development, however an oceanfront property being preserved for public use is a unique case.
The Surf Club property was formally transferred to public ownership late in 2021 after lengthy negotiations with the Barcelona family, who owned the popular nightclub and restaurant for decades.
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, which was finalized last December. The remainder was funded through state programs.
A separate property to the north of the Surf Club site, which consists of privately-owned condominium units, is being rebuilt in its original footprint now.