Not quite closing a three-year controversy, Asbury Park’s planning council this week approved a seaside pool club that supporters say will fuel the resort’s renaissance as a getaway high-end, but critics condemn it as an exclusive enclave that would further divide the haves of assets. not.
The board of directors voted 5-2 Monday night to grant preliminary and final site plan approval to the city’s designated waterfront developer, Manhattan-based iStar, for a one-block lodge. on the beach along Ocean Avenue in the northeast corner of town.
The club would contain a 30 X 100 foot swimming pool, cabanas, changing rooms and restrooms, and an observation deck where members could sip cocktails and contemplate bodies on the beach, surfers on the waves and the sea. ‘a deep blue, from behind walls rising up to 18 feet above the sidewalk and sand.
But opponents have insisted since the project was unveiled in 2018 that the members-only club runs counter to the inclusive and egalitarian ideals of at least part of the city’s historically diverse and artistic population.
And they’re now calling on authorities to reconsider Monday night’s approval in light of concerns raised by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that could have dramatic consequences for the entire city.
In letters and emails obtained by the Save Asbury’s Waterfront group as part of an Open Public Records Act request, FEMA informed city officials in early March that the project appeared to violate federal development standards in a flood plain.
âSAW has long been concerned about access and inclusion issues with the pool club, as well as environmental concerns about building a project in a flood-prone area,â said Kathleen Mumma, resident of Asbury Park and organizer of SAW. “It appears FEMA shares some of these concerns.”
FEMA has informed city officials that failure to meet its standards could initially place the city on probation in terms of participating in the National Flood Insurance Program, or NFIP, the historic 1968 federal program that insures homeowners against disasters. like Hurricane Sandy.
The continued non-compliance, FEMA warned, could mean the city’s coverage suspended, essentially voiding federal flood insurance for every property in the coastal city.
“Communities participating in NFIP that do not meet NFIP standards may be subject to probation or suspension,” says March 1 letter to mayor, interim affairs administrator and other officials of the city, by Scott V. Duell, FEMA’s head of floodplain management and insurance.
The consequences of probation would include an additional $ 50 on premiums for all NFIP policyholders in the city. But a suspension resulting from continued non-compliance would have devastating implications for a riverside city hoping to maintain a development boom.
“No resident will be able to purchase an NFIP policy,” the letter warned. “Existing NFIP policies will not be renewed, no federal grants or development loans can be made in identified flood-prone areas, no federal disaster assistance can be provided to repair insurable buildings damaged by flooding in flood zones identified, no federal mortgage insurance or loan guarantees can be provided in the flood zones identified.
FEMA’s stated primary concern was that the project’s lowest level – the bottom of the pool – would not be raised by pylons to a level equal to or greater than the site’s base flood level, the height at which the water would rise during a hundred-year flood.
FEMA requested a variety of information, including specifications for the pool project itself, and a detailed overview of the city’s process for assessing a project’s compliance with FEMA floodplain standards.
SAW attorney Stuart Lieberman said “it’s literally mind-boggling” that city officials appear to have failed to brief city planning council of FEMA’s concerns.
âIt is very, very difficult to understand how the municipal authorities did not go out of their way to make sure that the planning board was aware, and that the members of the planning board were not aware of. this risk that the city will lose its flood insurance. “said Lieberman.
âWe will definitely be in communication with the board and asking them to reopen and delay this request,â he said.
Brian Cheripka, iStar’s senior vice president for lands and development, issued a statement in response to FEMA concerns.
“To date, the Asbury Park Planning Council and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection have reviewed and approved the beach club site plans, each within their respective jurisdictions,” Cheripka said.
âAs with any other project,â he added, âbefore construction of the beach club begins, the detailed construction plans will be reviewed by the building department under the Uniform Building Code and by the local administrator under the City’s Flood Damage Prevention Ordinance. Any suggestion that there are gaps even before the construction documents have been reviewed by the local administrator is premature. “
In response to SAW’s concerns about the exclusivity and other criticisms of the pool club, the company defended the project as a permitted use as part of the Asbury Park waterfront redevelopment plan in 2004, and the latest in a series of iStar investments in the city worth hundreds of millions of dollars that will create jobs and continue to boost the local economy.
The company’s other projects include the Asbury Hotel and the adjacent redeveloped Asbury Lanes bowling / concert hall, as well as a 17-story condominium tower known as the Asbury Ocean Club, where a penthouse is located. is sold for $ 5 million in 2019.
iStar said a pool club membership block would be offered to Ocean Club owners. But the company also said the club will be open to anyone who can afford it, and has even pledged to offer day passes, though iStar has never publicly said what they will be. membership fees.
FEMA’s March 1 letter and other correspondence were emailed and standard mail to Donna Vierro, the city’s Acting Business Administrator, with a copy to Mayor John Moor, City Engineer Francis Mullan of T&M Associates, who is the administrator of the Asbury Park floodplain, and other officials. of the city and the State Department of Environmental Protection.
Neither Vierro nor Mullan responded to requests for comment on Friday.
Moor sits on the planning board and cast one of two votes against the billiard club on Monday, said he did not recall receiving FEMA correspondence in March, although he said he had found the emails by searching for them while still online. .
The mayor said it would not have been unusual for him to ignore or scroll through emails also addressed to other city officials. In some cases, he said, he will pass such messages to the relevant city officials with a note asking them to look into the matter, without immediately paying any attention himself at that time.
Moor noted that he voted against the pool club on Monday, although he said it was because he was not happy with the project, including that it was unattractive, in particular after the design was altered to eliminate an ivy-covered exterior wall that would have faced Ocean Avenue. Moor said his opposition had nothing to do with FEMA concerns.
The other vote against the project was cast by City Councilor Yvonne Clayton, who also sits on the Planning Council. Clayton did not return a message asking why she voted no.
Neither Clayton nor Board Chair Barbara Krzak nor any other member of the Board has been copied in FEMA correspondence. And planning council secretary Irina Gasparyan said on Friday that she had not received any copies of FEMA correspondence or been made aware of FEMA concerns in any way.
City attorney Frederick Rafetto said on Friday he was unaware of FEMA’s concerns. In any case, Rafetto added, his clients – the city council – had ended their involvement in the project two years earlier, declaring it in line with the waterfront redevelopment plan. After that, he said, it was a matter of planning advice.
Board attorney Jack Serpico did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.
At least one person in Asbury Park’s planning circles was aware of FEMA’s concerns, according to the correspondence. In a March 9 email, Marianne Luhrs, FEMA Regional Insurance Liaison Officer, summed up a conversation with the city’s director of planning and redevelopment, Michelle Alonso.
In the email, Luhrs wrote that Alonso had tried to explain that it was too early to know if the pool club would be in compliance with federal floodplain planning rules, as it could not be inferred that during the construction review phase of the project, which would only occur after the planning council had approved the project.
But even based on project planning documents filed at this point, Luhrs said FEMA staff members can already tell it won’t meet federal standards.
“From our discussion, you indicated that as the proposal was still under consideration by the planning council, the time had not yet come for the city to request construction documents,” wrote Luhrs, who added that the city should not rely on state waterfront development permits. as proof that a project would comply with federal rules. “In fact, it appears that some aspects of the proposal, as currently described, are not in line.”
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Steve Strunsky can be reached at [email protected]