Stafford Officials Weighing Community Center

Tim Hart was among residents adding to the community center discussions at the Stafford township council meeting. (Photo by Chris Lundy)

STAFFORD – Officials re-affirmed their commitment to wait and see if another community center is needed during the last Township Council meeting.

Beach Haven West resident Bob McManus spoke about how things have changed in his neighborhood since he purchased his house. He looked at the amenities in the development, like the lagoons, pool, and community center. They were all selling points for him. Now, the pool and community center are gone and the lagoons have dredging issues.

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

The community center on Mill Creek Road was left unusable by Superstorm Sandy. As a result, the township received money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to build a new one on East Bay Avenue.

Actor Alec Baldwin reached out to Governor Chris Christie, asking how he could help any town in New Jersey, and Christie put him in touch with Stafford officials. He donated $250,000. Stafford used that money to buy an underutilized building from the school district to use for recreation. Then, they received a grant to upgrade that building.

Beach Haven West residents miss having a building in their neighborhood, and have been petitioning the governing body to rebuild it. Part of the problem is that Beach Haven West is in a flood zone, and FEMA would never give the town money to build a public facility there. So, the FEMA money went to build the Bay Avenue Community Center.

Still, some Beach Haven West residents have been upset that they lost the building in the first place. The town was set on rebuilding it until this year, when they saw that the residents weren’t happy that it wasn’t going to be the same as their old one, which had a full kitchen, for example. The town has stopped plans on the Mill Creek building until it is determined if it would actually be used. So, some feel that they have lost it a second time.

“Beach Haven West is requesting the town to do better,” McManus said. He suggested a cost savings measure would be to update old blueprints to modern standards instead of starting from scratch.

“Remember, the donation was given to Beach Haven West for rebuilding the building,” he said.

Mayor John Spodofora disagreed. “The only people here who have talked to Mr. Baldwin was myself and (Business Administrator James) Moran,” he said. The money was not specifically given for the Mill Creek building. It was for any building.

The Mill Creek building happened to be located in Beach Haven West but it belonged to Stafford, he said. Bay Avenue is the safest and most versatile location, so they chose that spot. If the town was going to build another, it would have to come from taxes. Before spending at least $1 million on a new building, the township is going to wait and see how much use the Bay Avenue building gets. If there is a dire need for more recreation space, then it would be built.

“The community is Stafford Township. All 47 square miles. There are no borders,” he said.

Councilman David Taylor agreed. “We still have a community center. We don’t have a Mill Creek Community Center,” he said.

McManus asked if the Mill Creek property will remain available. He did not want it used for something else while the governing body is making its decision. He was concerned because for years they were told that the Mill Creek community center would be rebuilt and now that promise was taken away.

Stafford Township Council Meeting Room (Photo by Micromedia Publications)

Spodofora confirmed that the township is not going to sell the property.

Tim Hart, the township historian and a resident of a different section of town, spoke about how a lot of people were inconvenienced by the community center being located in Beach Haven West, far away from western areas of town.

He said he supported the governing body’s decision to wait and see what kind of need there was for an additional community center before going forward with it.

McManus had also said the governing body at the time – who were different than they are now – should have moved to stop the developer from removing the pool and replacing it with homes.

Moran said that would have been illegal. Township officials can’t change the zoning on a parcel because they don’t like what the owner has planned for it. It’s called spot zoning, and it opens a township up for litigation.

Another of McManus’ issues was over the dredging of lagoons.

Spodofora said the township has been dredging for years, and is trying to find a solution.