A proposed rooftop bar and restaurant on the northern portion of the Seaside Heights boardwalk that has twisted its way through the courts for several years will return to the borough’s planning board for consideration after a settlement offer was rejected Monday night.
The terms of the settlement, since it was not executed, are protected by attorney-client privilege and were unavailable publicly. But the rejection was unanimous, with all voting members of the board agreeing not to adopt the proposal, which would allow a bar and restaurant to be operated in an area of the boardwalk where such businesses are prohibited by the town’s zoning ordinance.
The planning board in 2020 denied an application by Fresh Cut Fries LLC to build a restaurant and bar with a rooftop section at 1219 Boardwalk, next door to what has become known as the “Jersey Shore” house from its portrayal on the MTV series bearing the same name. But a zoning ordinance passed in early March of that year placed restrictions on new dining establishments on the northern portion of the Seaside Heights boardwalk, effectively outlawing nightclubs or establishments that could be converted into one after dark. The council made the decision in order to designate the northern portion of the boardwalk as a zone that would be developed with quieter businesses and residential units.
Because the application had been made shortly before the ordinance was passed, however, the board applied the previously-worded zoning code to its decision. Still, the existing restrictions prevented the new establishment from gaining approval.
Fresh Cut Fries, owned by Marc Pollaro, sued within weeks of the board’s denial of the application pitching his restaurant to the board. His attorney, Stephen P. Sinisi, argued that because Seaside Heights had not re-examined its master plan in about 15 years, all of its zoning ordinances could no longer be considered reasonable. Since the litigation was filed, that re-examination has been completed.
The property has since been sold to Danny Merk, owner of the “Shore Store” retail business next door, and a business partner. This revelation led to a motion requesting the case be dismissed since the applicant pitching the restaurant no longer owned the business. In turn, a hand-written lease was submitted to the court, ostensibly serving as proof that the restaurant and bar proposal was still in play, despite questions as to whether the “lease” constituted a legal document, or that the original applicant had agreed to rent the property from the new owner.
Ultimately, Superior Court Judge Valter Must, after three years of dueling, back-and-forth motions remanded the case back to the Seaside Heights planning board, ordering the board to come to a decision on two questions – one involving jurisdiction and one involving the reasonability of the zoning ordinance at the time given the lack of a recent re-examination study. Since the case was first filed, the borough has gone through the re-examination process.
No date has been set for the board to hear the case. Board Attorney Stephen A. Zabarsky said he would contact his adversary in the case and inform him of the board’s decision, with the expectation that a hearing would occur at a meeting in the near-future.