Toms River: 2017 A Look Back

Township Clerk J. Mark Mutter addresses the crowd at the ceremony. (Photo by Chris Lundy)

TOMS RIVER – In this look back on the biggest stories of 2017, there was a mix of good news and bad. Some of it depends on your perspective. But, it’s plain to see there were a lot of events this year that made history.

J. Mark Mutter gets ready for the 250th anniversary of Toms River. (Photo by Micromedia Archives)

250th Birthday

The old town looks good for 250 years old. Residents celebrated the semiquincentennial anniversary of when Dover Township became its own municipality in 1767. It was renamed Toms River relatively recently.

Special events were held throughout the year, such as historical talks and special ceremonies. Events that would have happened normally, such as the Food Fest in the summer, were attended by historical commission members to educate the public on the town’s history.

Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

Eagle Ridge Approved

Residents, already feeling the walls of development coming in from all sides, were upset that the former Eagle Ridge Golf Course in Lakewood was going to be the site of about 1,800 homes, plus assorted other buildings. Residents from several nearby towns pointed to problems with the application, which included the impact on the environment, but especially the impact on traffic.

Ultimately, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection published an “intent to settle,” which reduced the headcount to a total of 1,034 units, plus five community center buildings, a clubhouse, a 23,387 square foot retail building and another 44,677 square-foot retail building.

Opioid Epidemic

Heroin, often mixed with fentanyl, has become an epidemic in Ocean County. Hundreds of people have died of overdoses, and hundreds more have had their lives saved by Narcan sprays administered by first responders.

Local police have combatted the problem by increasing drug education in schools and cracking down even harder on dealers.

Toms River Mayor Thomas Kelaher, Chief Mitchell Little, and Council President Alfonso Manforti discuss the opioid epidemic. (Photo by Chris Lundy)

They are also differentiating between the crimes of dealing drugs and possessing drugs. Those who are caught up in addiction are being given another chance by coming into certain police departments and being evaluated for free rehab. They turn in all their drugs and they don’t face any charges under the Blue HART (Heroin Addiction Recovery Treatment) program. Brick, Manchester, Stafford, Lacey, and Ocean Gate are now part of this program.

The root cause to the epidemic is addiction to prescription painkillers, police said. That’s why there are places to drop off unused medications for the police to burn and keep it out of the hands of addicts. Also, Toms River, Brick and Lacey have joined a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies to recoup costs from dealing with this epidemic, and to force those companies to change the way they market their medicines to everyone.

Performing Arts Academy

A new Performing Arts Academy building for the Ocean County Vocational-Technical School was announced. Currently, the Performing Arts Academy is housed in Hangar 1 of the Joint Base-McGuire/Dix/Lakehurst. Its lease will be expiring soon. Additionally, with added security regulations, parents and staff have said that location is not as convenient as it once was.

Audio Engineering was added in 2016 as a fourth discipline for Performing Arts Academy students. (Photo courtesy of OCVTS)

Students will select from four majors: theater, vocal, dance and audio engineering. This would be in addition to its academic curriculum. The 60,000-square-foot building is expected to open in 2019. It will be located on the campus of Ocean County College. The goal is to create a continuity of education, so that OCC classes can be taught to high school students. The high school and the college students would be able to share facilities, although not at the same time.

The Ocean County Freeholders created a $27 million bond to pay for the school. They committed $8 million of its total cost. The state of New Jersey will be paying 40 percent of the project, or $10.6 million. The Jay and Linda Grunin Foundation has pledged $8 million.

Todd Frazier A Yankee

Local star Todd Frazier joined the New York Yankees. The 31-year-old was part of the internationally famous Toms River team that won the 1998 Little League World Series.

He had been playing for the Chicago White Sox, but was acquired by the Yankees as part of an exchange that carried teammates David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to New York, and Chicago received Tyler Clippard, Ian Clarkin, Blake Rutherford and Tito Polo.

School Aid Lost, Then Restored

The Toms River Regional School District was slated to lose $3.3 million in state aid. State lawmakers had attributed the loss to the fact that Toms River had shrinking enrollment, so the reduction in state aid was long overdue. Toms River had 17,169 students in the 2008-2009 school year. They were down to 15,620 in 2016-2017.

School officials held a press conference, contacted lawmakers, and drummed up support from parents. Ultimately, their efforts were rewarded with the state aid being returned to the previous year’s total.

The officials noted that the previous year’s total was still a reduction from past years, however.

The sign with graffiti marking the project – that is no longer happening. (Photo by Micromedia Archives)

Walmart Gave Up On New Store

Walmart officials said in an emailed statement that “after consideration of several business factors, we have made the difficult decision not to move forward with building another Walmart store in Toms River.”

The property borders Toms River and Manchester, so both towns had to sign off on it. The plan was originally heard in 2004.

Jaylin Holdings, the name of the developing company formed by Jay and Linda Grunin, originally proposed a main store of 203,091 square feet, with a 19,884 square-foot garden center and 1,049 parking spaces. In 2010, the plan was scaled down to 189,797 square feet of retail space, a 5,703 square-foot garden center and 833 parking spaces.

Seen as a victory by environmentalists, due to the impact it would have on nearby habitats, officials from both towns would have welcomed the added tax ratable.

Crackdown On Transients

Township officials responded to issues with renters and people who live at hotels, because of the crime and disruption of the neighborhood that comes with transients.

The Township’s Quality of Life Task Force, made up of primarily police, fire, and code or zoning enforcement personnel, entered two local hotels with search warrants and made a series of arrests.

A new ordinance will require people staying in hotels and motels to provide identification, driver’s license number, and vehicle description, and for hotel operators to record this information. The ordinance also prevented anyone from staying in a room for less than 12 hours or for more than 90 days.

Another ordinance addressed people who rent their home out to vacationers for a day or more. Residents in quiet neighborhoods didn’t want partying tourists spending a weekend next door and leaving it a mess. According to this ordinance, the homeowners would have to register as a landlord and display a permit. People can only stay for a minimum of two days during the period of April 1 through Nov. 30 on the barrier island. Outside of the barrier island, it would be a seven-day minimum.

This ordinance took a long time to come, because some homeowners felt they had a right to make a little side money off the occasional rental of their home, and some people rented to vacationers who were good neighbors.

Fire Election Failed                                                         

A new station that would be home to Toms River Fire Companies 1 and 2 failed at the ballot. The ballot question asked voters to approve a $14 million bond, because by law they had to ask for the full amount, even though they expected grants to bring this down.

Toms River Mayor Kelaher and Councilwoman Maruca watched the landing pipe and transfer piping arrive for the interim dune project in Ortley Beach. (Photo courtesy Toms River)

Beach Replenished

The Army Corps of Engineers began a $128 million dune replenishment project after the township got all the easements signed. The area had been hit hard by Superstorm Sandy, and never fully recovered. The township spent a lot of money replacing sand on the beach after storms.

Ortley Beach was scheduled to receive approximately 267,000 cubic yards of sand, creating an approximately 225-foot-wide beach. The crew was to start in spring, to set up the beach for the summer season, and then return at the close of the season through 2018 to finish the work and do Normandy Beach.