2020: A Year Of Changes & Controversy In Southern Ocean

The Barnegat Lighthouse (Photo by Micromedia Publications)

  OCEAN COUNTY – While most people would rather not think about 2020 ever again, there were some stories that might have been forgotten in the whirlwind of COVID-19 and politics that dominated the news cycle.

  Locally, things moved more slowly. Businesses came and went. Kids continued going to school – though it was different than anything we had experienced thus far.

  The following are some of the most significant stories this newspaper covered in 2020.

Changes In Storefronts

  The coverage of The Southern Ocean Times includes Lacey to Little Egg to LBI, and there were a lot of changes in businesses in the area.

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  Chipotle Mexican Grill, Starbucks, and Burger King were announced in Lacey.

  Members of the township’s planning board each voted on a site plan approving the building of a Burger King and Chipotle restaurants in Sunset Plaza. The two restaurants will include indoor dining areas with drive-thru and take-out areas according to the application.

Residents have been waiting for the vacant Kmart to be filled with new business. (Photo by Alyssa Riccardi)

  Lacey had a Burger King on Route 9 for years but it closed within the last year. That location will soon become a Popeye’s restaurant.

  The Starbucks coming to Lacey will be constructed by developer Invest River, LLC at the northwest corner of an intersection on Lacey Road and Manchester Avenue.

  Manahawkin Commons is a huge shopping plaza home to the Regal Cinemas 10 and the vacant Kmart store. After the township Planning Board approved some new decisions, the complex will now be acquiring brand new stores in the future.

  As stated in the planning documents on file in Stafford Township’s municipal building, marketing materials and meeting minutes, here are the new stores expected to come:

  • The vacant Kmart building will be divided to make spaces for four stores.
  • TJ Maxx and HomeGoods will move to the Kmart building.
  • Ross Dress for Less will take a spot next to TJ Maxx/HomeGoods. This will be the first Ross Stores’ location in Ocean County.
  • Old Navy will take a spot next to Ross.
  • Burlington, formerly known as Burlington Coat Factory, will move into the 40,000-square-foot store that TJ Maxx and HomeGoods are currently located in.
  • Ulta Beauty will move from Stafford Square shopping center and into Manahawkin Commons. 

  Barnegat 67, a four-story rental unit, has been developing. Underneath and near the residences were Planet Fitness, Dollar Tree, BSR Physical Therapy, Pan Asia, EMD Tax and Financials, CVS and Wawa.

Fond Farewells

  Several locations closed for good in 2020, whether it was because of the pandemic or other factors.

  Hand’s in Beach Haven was the go-to place for people living on the island year-round, in addition to tourists. It had been a fixture in the area since the early 1950s. The store is now under new ownership.

  After 32 years of memories and bringing joy to the community, Long Beach Island’s popular Dom’s Drive In also closed for good.

  “I think since we’ve always ran Dom’s as a family business and because we are here every day and every night I think it’s a unique business in the fact that we are always here and we care about what people get as a final product,” owner Rich Lally said. “My kids have worked here, my wife and I are always here. The hard work pays off and people are happy with what they get here. They’re happy to get the same thing every time the same way, which is kind of rare today. I think that’s why so many people in the community loved Dom’s.”

Many Barnegat residents and LGBTQ supporters toted handmade signs reading “Unify Barnegat,” “Equality is a Human Right,” and “History, Herstory, Our Story” which were shown off during a pre-meeting peaceful protest outside town hall. (Photo by Kimberly Bosco)

LGBTQ-Inclusive Curriculum

  Pinelands Regional School District was named one of 12 pilot school districts to incorporate the new LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum. It was the only local school on the list. It was one of 50 that applied to be considered.

  The pilot program is part of the LGBTQ-Inclusive Curriculum Bill, or S-1569. Signed into law on Jan. 31, 2019 by Governor Phil Murphy, S-1569 “requires boards of education to include instruction, and adopt instructional materials, that accurately portray political, economic, and social contributions of persons with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.”

  “As a pilot school, our teachers, administrators, students, and community members will be provided various forms of support while implementing the curriculum,” said Pinelands Regional Junior High School Principal Eric Pschorr.

  The pilot program would run until the end of the 2019-2020 school year in preparation for implementing the LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum throughout the entire state come the 2020-2021 school year.

  In addition to educating the students on LGBTQ topics, Pschorr noted that Pinelands teaching staff will be given access to the new curriculum and be provided instructional coaching while the administration will be provided a leadership coach on school law and best practices for LGBTQ inclusion in the curriculum.

  The curriculum would be offered to NJ schools by Garden State Equality at no cost.

  This proved to be controversial, with several elected officials speaking out against it. They thought that parents should have a right to opt out of such education.

Vetwork Controversy

  “Originally started as the Ocean County POW/MIA Organization in 1984, Vetwork is helping veterans get on their feet.”

  This was the opening sentence in an article about the organization. And it was true. However, something else came to light.

  Three high ranking employees were charged with embezzling from the nonprofit. The board of directors commissioned an audit which revealed certain employees getting extra payroll checks – the director, office manager, and community outreach supervisor. The total lost was about $30,000.

Barnegat High School (Micromedia File Photo)

Barnegat Redistricting

  Barnegat Board of Education members voted 6 to 3 to approve the redistricting plan that would send some students to different elementary schools.

  Some parents organized against the change, online and in person.

  The new plan – when it was published – called for pre-kindergarten students to attend the Lillian M. Dunfee School. Students from kindergarten through second grade would go the Cecil S. Collins School, and third and fourth graders would go to the Joseph T. Donahue School. Fifth and sixth graders would attend the Robert L. Horbelt School. The Russell L. Brackman Middle School would house seventh and eighth graders.

  The reconfiguration plan would allow the district to “better tailor instruction and resources” to meet the needs of students, Superintendent Dr. Brian Latwis stated on the district’s webpage at barnegatschools.com.

  “We, as a district, will be able to better tailor instruction and resources to meet the diverse needs of our students,” he wrote on the webpage. “While change may seem daunting at times, it is essential for growth.”

Morris Boulevard Bridge Replaced

  Township residents and officials were pleased to note the completion of work to replace the Morris Boulevard Bridge, over Fox Island Creek.

  County officials noted that this important project in the Beach Haven West section of Stafford Township cost about $1.6 million.

  The work included the complete replacement of an existing 3-span concrete and steel bridge built in 1955 and its timber substructure. The design of the new bridge was modified to match the Marsha Drive Bridge.

  This article draws from stories originally written by staff writers and freelancers Kimberly Bosco, Amy MacNeill, Patricia A. Miller, Alyssa Riccardi, Wendy McClure and Bob Vosseller.