Opinion: Atlantic Highlands Waterfront Property Battle Continues

first_imgNeighbors for Waterfront Preservation will appeal thissubdivision approval and in so doing, hopes set an important precedent forfuture developments.  As a community, wehave a choice.  Will we allow newdevelopments in flood zones, thereby endangering existing residents in theneighborhood?  Or, will we preserve theseareas for open space, public access, and a buffer for rising seas? Some members of the planning board felt otherwise, however: twomembers voted no and one abstained. Unfortunately, approval required only asimple majority, and now the developer has cleared his first hurdle.  This decision undermines efforts by thecommunity to preserve some or all of this property as open space, especially onthe waterfront, and it risks contributing to over-development on the JerseyShore. Now the fate of this unique property will be decided by the NJ DEP, thecourts, and, potentially, the Borough Council.  The Two River Times recently reported the Atlantic Highlands Planning Board approved a large subdivision plan for luxury waterfront homes on the 7-acre waterfront McConnell Property.  The developer, Steven Denholtz, and his attorney John Giunco, argued that the development was “variance and waiver free,” and that the hands of the Planning Board were tied, making approval fait accompli.  But apparently the developer has a shorter memory than therest of us. Mr. Denholtz’s professionals said that this waiver did not apply tohis application because the waterfront was already “developed.”  While it is true that the property onceserved as an oil transfer station with minimal infrastructure built toaccommodate the now defunct business, it was never subdivided or “developed”for residential use as the zone requires. The Borough Council’s obvious intent was to prevent new development inflood-prone areas, not to stop existing homeowners from rebuilding their flood-damaged homes. This stretch of waterfront has been abandoned for decades, andthe sea is taking back the old wooden bulkhead. Clearly, the developer should have requested a waiver to subdivide andbuild homes on this site.  The Boroughengineer neglected to address this issue in his original review letter, but inthe end sided with Denholtz, setting the stage for this potentially disastrous decision.  Local residents have numerous concerns about this project, including:the toxic legacy of the property; the failure of the developer and the planningboard to provide public access; the disregard for the historical significanceof the site; and the exclusion of the objector’s legal counsel in the planningprocess. One of the most substantial and immediate questions posed by thisdecision is: should new developments be allowed in flood zones?center_img This letter was first published in the Commentary section of the May 23-29, 2019 print edition of The Two River Times. Contributed by Benson Chiles, Neighbors for Waterfront Preservation A year after Super Storm Sandy when the borough sufferedmillions of dollars in damage to homes and property, the Atlantic HighlandsBorough Council updated its zoning ordinance design standards to require thatall new subdivision plans preserve all areas in the flood zone as openspace.  This action was a logical andmeaningful response to a devastating storm that no one in the Two River area issoon to forget.  last_img read more