STAFFORD – Township officials declared that they would not move forward with any plans for the proposed community center in Beach Haven West until they see what is needed for the entire town.
The community center on Mill Creek Road was left unsafe and unusable by Superstorm Sandy. The township has since built a brand new building on East Bay Avenue, and purchased an adjacent building on Pine Street. Both are to be used for recreation.
Some Beach Haven West residents have been arguing with township officials that they want to be made whole, and have a facility in their section of town that is equal to or better than the one that they lost. The current argument is about a full kitchen in the building. Beach Haven West residents want one, but township officials said it would be too expensive. The East Bay Avenue building has one.
After a heated public discussion about the issue at the January 24 council meeting, Mayor John Spodofora issued a statement that the town will delay any construction of the Mill Creek building “pending the evaluation of existing facilities.” He explained that officials wanted to see what kinds of demands were needed from residents before spending $1.5 million or more on a building.
“Perhaps the best course of action is to see the two facilities in action,” he said, in reference to the East Bay and Pine Street buildings.
After the meeting, township officials were unsure of what kind of timeline would be appropriate. Spodofora and Township Administrator James Moran both said that improvements to Pine Street should come first, so they could see it being used.
Councilman Alan Smith also added that if the township spends more than $1 million on a building in a flood zone, where Mill Creek is, it could all be wasted if there’s another huge storm.
Spodofora said he made his comments after the public session was over “because I wanted to wrap it up.” There have been some of the same issues over and over.
Spodofora and Smith had met with the residents previously. “I was under the impression it was all done. We could move forward without the stove,” he said.
Dawn Papatheodorou, president of the Beach Haven West Civic Association, brought a petition with more than 430 signatures asking for a full kitchen in the Mill Creek building. She said that there were more than just people from Beach Haven West on the petitions. There were people from Manahawkin as well.
“Does that mean anything to you?” she asked about the names.
Spodofora replied that yes, every taxpayer means something to them.
Papatheodorou asked whether the governing body was going to sit down to another meeting with Beach Haven West. Spodofora said there was no plans to meet again.
The East Bay Avenue Community Center is too far away, Papatheodorou said. “It’s like saying ‘Go use your neighbor’s oven.’ “
A drive from the Mill Creek site, taking Jonathan Drive to Marsha Boulevard, across Route 72 to the East Bay Avenue building is 1.9 miles from driveway to driveway.
Beach Haven West resident Jeanine Sciglitano agreed with her. “It’s inconvenient for them to schlep everything over to Bay Avenue.”
Spodofora asked if it was convenient for the rest of the town to go to Beach Haven West back when Mill Creek was still standing.
Sciglitano wanted the township to bid it with the kitchen to see what the price would actually be.
Bob McManus, also a Beach Haven West resident, said there are a lot more year-round residents these days, and the number might increase.
“You should be planning for the future, not just for today,” he said.
He argued that Beach Haven West pays a lot in taxes to the town, and deserve to be made whole for all their contributions.
Spodofora said he does not like the argument that if someone pays more in taxes, then they deserve more from the town. Everyone in town should get equal treatment.
A few residents came out to the meeting endorsing the governing body’s decision of holding off on the building for now.
Rich Carlson, president of the Colony Lakes Homeowner Association and vice president of the local Republican club, said he used to use the Mill Creek building about once a month, but never used the kitchen. In his career, he sells restaurant equipment, and said the project is much more expensive than just a stove. It would also need a hood, vents, fire suppression system, and a more expensive insurance policy. He commended the governing body on the new community building.
“Bay Avenue has a full kitchen. Why do we have to duplicate that?” he said.
Meanwhile, work still needs to be done on the Pine Street building. The township received a $140,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to renovate it, Moran said. It needs a new roof, heating and air conditioning siding, and electrical work. There needs to be renovations to the interior, as well. The building might get more use if the walls were redone to change the layout of the rooms. Additionally, there is a small, illegal kitchen in the middle of the building that would need to come out. If the township does not use the entire $140,000, the remainder has to be returned to FEMA.
Papatheodorou has said that the entire $140,000 would be needed because that building is “a tear-down.” Government officials disagreed with that assessment.