BERKELEY – The driving range area of the iconic Blackbeard’s Cave will be torn down and turned into a self storage facility.
A developer who is in the process of buying the land, Marble Arch Homes of Lakewood, applied to the Zoning Board in order to build it. They are a contingent buyer, meaning that the sale will go through if they got approval on what they want to build.
When a developer wants to build something, and that particular use isn’t allowed on that land, they have to apply to the Zoning Board for a variance. In this case, private storage facilities were not allowed on that property.
Brian Murphy, engineer for the developer, said that the property consists of three lots. One lot has Route 9 frontage and 8.71 acres; it is where the storage area will be. A second lot, 12.617 acres with Route 9 frontage, will remain with the current owner. The last lot, 40.9 acres, has no frontage on Route 9, has wetlands, and could be sold to the county as open space.
Part of the land is owned by the Johnson Rents company, he said. The Johnson family had owned quite a bit of property, including the Beachwood Mall and the asphalt plant behind it.
The driving range and the parking lot would be demolished to make room for 91,260 square feet of self storage and a small office. There would be 22 stalls in the back where people could park RVs and boats for storage. There would be no boat racks and no vehicle maintenance allowed.
The hours would be 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., he said.
The engineer for the Zoning Board, Ernie Peters, wanted to make sure that there wouldn’t be a staging area on the property with the vehicles.
“This is not an industrial park,” he said. “This is a redevelopment area.”
There was a heated argument between some members of the Zoning Board and the developer. Board members pointed out discrepancies in the plans that were submitted. For example, there was a Google map from a few years ago, when they would rather have something up to date. They wanted to know where the utility poles currently were because they would likely have to be moved.
“These things can be worked out as a condition to approval,” said John Paul Doyle, the attorney for the developer. He spoke of other applications where small details like this were left to be hashed out after the meeting. The engineers from the developer and the engineer from the town would go back and forth and iron out any issues. He asked why couldn’t that be done here?
Zoning Board Chairman Richard Elliot said that in the past, Marble Arch Homes has not held up their side of a deal when actually building something.
Doyle cited case law that the Board shouldn’t judge an application based on past work. Further, if Elliot made a statement like that, it shows bias against the developer.
Elliot recused himself from the decision, stepped down from his seat on the dais, and sat in the back of the room.
Vice chair Jerome Bollettieri then ran the rest of the meeting. “Every application will be judged on its own merits,” he said.
The plan is under review by the State Department of Transportation. The developer wanted a full intersection, allowing people to go north and south out of the parking lot.
Board member Edward Gudaitis pointed out that the developer’s traffic study was done during COVID when there were fewer cars on the road, and wanted an update.
The developer’s traffic expert, Scott Kennell of McDonough and Rea Associates, said that figures were used from December of 2020, but also from February of 2020. February was before the pandemic and higher numbers were used in their calculations.
Gudaitis said it doesn’t show summer traffic or the higher traffic times when school begins and lets out for the day. Kennell said they measured traffic during the time most people go to their storage areas, mid-day afternoons and weekends.
Zoning Board members were holding the property to a right-in, right-out driveway. This means that no one would make a left across Route 9 to enter or leave.
Kennell said people will use other driveways or streets to do illegal u-turns if that’s the case. Of the crashes in the area recently, none of them had to do with left turns. Lights to the north and south of the property will provide enough gaps in traffic for someone to go in or out, he said.
Doyle said that if the driveway is limited, it will sorely limit the ability to develop the property.
However, no one spoke about whether a truck pulling a boat on a trailer would have enough space to enter or leave.
During the part of the meeting where the public can comment, Lindsay Parrott said she and her husband Mike run Bill’s BBQ Shack. Her father, William, ran Blackbeard’s but he is in poor health.
“I’ve been there waiting 10 minutes to make a left turn,” she said.
She said there are already seven storage facilities in Berkeley, and three in Lacey, and 19 in Toms River. She didn’t see the need for more.
Bollettieri called it a “disaster waiting to happen.” He also noted that not every accident gets reported. He voted against the development but ultimately it was approved, with a right-in, right-out driveway.