Beach Haven West Residents Continue Push For Community Center

The Stafford Council (Photo by Chris Lundy)

STAFFORD – Some Beach Haven West residents came to a recent Township Council meeting to figure out when and why governing body members changed their mind about whether to have a community center in their section of town.

Stafford Bay Ave community center interior (Photo by Chris Lundy)

After the Mill Creek Community Center was left unusable by Superstorm Sandy, local officials pledged to rebuild it. The site was cleared, and some planning was done. However, when the town received money for a community center, they opted on other spots closer to the center of town. Officials have given two reasons for this. Federal money could not be spent on Mill Creek Road because it is in a flood zone. So federal money went into building the new community center on East Bay Avenue that opened at the end of last year. Actor Alec Baldwin donated $250,000, which the town used to purchase from the school district a building adjacent to Bay Avenue referred to as the Pine Street building.

Beach Haven West residents were promised they would get the community center back again. However, after several public arguments, the governing body decided to hold off on any construction until a needs assessment would be done to determine what the recreation needs are of the entire town, and what should ultimately be done in that spot.

The most recent argument centered on whether a community center at that spot would have a full kitchen, and the costs associated with that.

Frances Kosa, a resident of Beach Haven West, questioned how it got to this point when for years, they were promised a community center on Mill Creek. She said she was surprised to hear that the township was going to stop work on it. She heard this from a council meeting, rather than a member of the governing body coming to Beach Haven West to tell them.

“We got to this point partly because of misinformation and lack of communication. The message has changed several times,” she said.

As far as she had known, the town and Beach Haven West were still working together toward a goal. “We thought we were going to meet again. You decided we weren’t going to meet again.”

The Pine Street community center, adjacent to the East Bay Avenue building in Stafford. (Photo by Chris Lundy)

Now, there is sectionalism in town, she said. People from other neighborhoods are criticizing them for wanting the center.

“People complain about coming out to Mill Creek Road,” she said, noting the 25 mph speed limit and the issues of Route 72. “We live with it every day.”

Mayor John Spodofora said that in the beginning, rebuilding Mill Creek was the best choice.   “We did say we were going to build a community center,” he agreed. “That’s what we were dealing with at the time.”

However, buying Pine Street was a better investment, $225,000 versus roughly $1.5 million.

“We were going to build over there,” he said. “We couldn’t get a consensus of Beach Haven West. You guys were never happy with anything that was presented to you.”

He asked which location was the most convenient for the entire town, suggesting that the answer is the East Bay Avenue location. Mill Creek could not be used in the case of another storm.

“You shouldn’t have promised,” Kosa said.

“Fair enough,” Spodofora replied.

Stafford Township Council Meeting Room (Photo by Micromedia Publications)

Spodofora repeated that the governing body has not decided that there will not be a Mill Creek building. They are just holding off until more information comes in.

Councilman William Fessler explained his change of heart in the matter. He, too, had wanted Mill Creek rebuilt. He had suggested to the Beach Haven West residents to create a petition to show that they want that community center. However, since then, he has changed his mind.

“Why spend money on another building?” he asked.

“I agree with you that we made that commitment,” he said of the promise to rebuild at Mill Creek. However, the new building is gorgeous and people seem happy with it. If Pine Street and Bay Avenue buildings are not enough, then the governing body will re-assess it.

Kosa took issue with the surprise announcement that the governing body was stopping work on it. She said it could have been communicated better.

Spodofora agreed, noting that there has been antagonism from both sides.

“It doesn’t need to be this contentious,” he said.

  Beach Haven West resident Jeanine Sciglitano asked what kind of research was being done to determine whether an additional community center is needed.

Spodofora said there was a preliminary needs assessment. This was an initial estimation based on a list of all organizations that use facilities, when they meet, how often, and the number of people at events. Now, the township is recording the real time statistics of these organizations in action.

Dawn Papatheodorou, president of the Beach Haven West Civic Association, said that people buy into a community based on the amenities. When those amenities are taken away, then it hurts the quality of life for those residents.

“It’s like you put a stake in our heart,” she said. “You guys have all been lying to us for the last four and a half years.”

Several members of the governing body mentioned that boat ramps might be a good option for that space.

Sciglitano said it would be a bad idea because of the additional traffic it would bring.