Development, COVID, And Other Top Stories From 2021

The former Foodtown site on Route 70 has looked more or less like this for quite some time as the township and potential owners worked out what will be done with the property. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

  BRICK – 2021 is ending much how it started, with COVID-19 dominating the headlines nearly every day.

  The public health crisis has impacted every aspect of our lives, from how we live and interact with each other, how we work, communicate and travel. The virus has affected the economic, political, religious and financial systems around the world.

  The pandemic even introduced new vocabulary and phrases into regular conversation, such as “social distancing,” “flatten the curve,” “super-spreader,” “PPE,” “rapid test,” “contact-tracing,” and others.

  Since the beginning of the public health crisis, Brick has had 12,339 cases of COVID and 285 deaths. According to spokesperson Brian Lippai from the Ocean County Health Department, there has been a recent spike in COVID-19 cases in all of Ocean County, which was not unexpected after the holidays. The numbers are comparable to last year at this time, he added.

Health employees work at the drive-through testing center at Ocean County College in Toms River. (Photo courtesy the Richards family)

  The OCHD has administered more than 110,000 vaccines since Christmas Eve of 2020, he said, and the department is urging people to get fully vaccinated, which “is still the best tool we have to help stop the spread of COVID-19.”

  The first COVID vaccines were administered in mid-December 2020, with a nationwide roll-out starting shortly thereafter. A number of variants, or strains, of the virus emerged in 2021, and the CDC has recommended booster doses for adults ages 18 and older.

  On a local level, the vaccine and other measures enabled public meetings to return to in-person, which had switched over to “virtual” meetings via Zoom during the height of the pandemic, including the Board of Education, Township Council, Board of Adjustment, Planning Board and others.

  The 2020-2021 school year began as a hybrid model with students attending school in-person on Monday/Wednesday or Tuesday/Thursday with an early dismissal, and virtual classes on Fridays for everyone.

  After the winter break, starting in 2021, additional in-person days (with early dismissal) were phased in, first at the high school level, then middle school and finally, elementary school. This continued until the last two weeks of school in June, when everyone attended school full-time.

Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn

  The SummerFest concert series was back at Windward Beach Park this year after being canceled in 2020, the Senior Center opened its doors to in-person programs, and even Jersey Shore Animal Center had a “soft” reopening in June.

  Mayor John G. Ducey won his third term in a landslide election on November 2, while incumbent council members Marianna Pontoriero and Heather deJong also won reelection. For the first time since 2014, there would be a Republican council member when newcomer Perry Albanese won the seat vacated by Democrat Paul Mummolo, who decided not to seek reelection.

  Board of Education incumbents Stephanie Wohlrab, Victoria Pakala and Nicole Siebert also won their reelection bids.

  Ground was finally broken this year on the former Foodtown site – an 11-acre parcel of land near the intersection of Route 70 and Chambers Bridge Road – that has been vacant since it was purchased by the township for $6.1 million in 2003.

  After being mired in legal wranglings with a developer who wanted to build high-density housing at the former Foodtown shopping center (who had purchased the property with a plan to build a hotel and banquet hall there), the site was split, and two corporate entities, who paid $2.5 million each, are building a sports dome and a retail complex.

Brick had several big elections this year, including mayor, council and board of education. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

  The iconic Ocean Ice Palace, in business since 1962 and scheduled to close in July, was given a new life when it was announced that it had been purchased by the Harmony Hockey Group, who plans to revitalize the facility and keep it as an ice rink.

  An illegal ultra-orthodox high school for boys became a hot button topic in town this year when they opened at the site near the intersection of Route 70 and Van Zile Road that was previously occupied by Temple Beth Or.

  Congregation Kehilos Yisroel, Inc., controlled by developer David Gluck of Lakewood, did not have the proper permits and approvals for the school, and was shut down by Judge Craig Wellerson.

  Gluck has also purchased a number of homes near the illegal high school which were allegedly being used as dormitories for the students, which were in violation for overcrowding.

  The overcrowding charge is working its way through the municipal court, while an application for the high school is scheduled to be heard in late December before the Township Board of Adjustment.

  There is likely to be a number of hearings for the application since there are multiple objectors.