OCEANPORT – The long awaited rebirth of the former Fort Monmouth Marina on Riverside Avenue has hit a snag over red tape, official ownership, and an expansion that includes a restaurant and a bar, as well disgruntled neighbors.
Still, officials and the operators expect at least a portion of the marina to be operating by spring.
Operators, who say they are happy to secure all the proper permits and meet with neighbors to address their concerns, predict the boat launch and 71 slips on Oceanport Creek will open May 1, with slip space applications for boaters expected to be available later this month. Boat rentals including kayaks, paddleboats and other small crafts will be run by Red Bank Marina. The operators have hired a general manager and trained Italian chef for family-friendly fare including burgers, soups, salads, dinner items, a bar menu and a lighter menu in summer. The restaurant will be open year-round.
The renamed Marina at Oceanport was leased by Asbury Park Development Partners (APDP) through the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA) last year, beginning its resurrection following years of dormancy exacerbated by extensive Superstorm Sandy damage.
The new operators opened outdoor portions and boating to the public last summer. Partners in APDP, Fuller “Trip” Brooks and Mario Criscione, went on to enter into exclusive purchase agreement negotiations with FMERA, and are expected to take over full ownership soon under the name Marina at Oceanport Partners LLC.
That company includes Criscione, Brooks, and “agents” of APDP, Criscione’s daughters, Deanna Queenan and Jessica Sarnak.
One of the issues in the complex scenario is the issuance of three violations and who’s actually responsible for each.
Two of three violations cited by New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Bureau of Coastal Land Use Compliance and Enforcement under the Coastal Area Facility Review Act (CAFRA) occurred while the Army still owned the fort; the third involves work on the building by the new operators.
The property is technically owned by the Army so the new operators are conferring with their attorneys to determine whether the Army is responsible for the pre-existing violations and what their next course of action should be.
“We did get approval on each of our building changes and expansions from FMERA and got all proper permits from Oceanport,” Sarnak said. “We are only missing CAFRA. We didn’t know we needed it. FMERA includes DEP officials and we relied on their expertise. We were given approval to continue to work on the footprint and anything already in existence. If we are able to receive a temporary Certificate of Occupancy, we will be able to open the main indoor bar and a portion of the outdoor seating with a separate bar. FMERA has been wonderful to us.”
Irate Riverside Avenue neighbor Michael Sikand, an unsuccessful bidder on the marina, however, has different ideas. He publicly vowed to stop the restaurant from opening at the February 26 FMERA meeting. Speaking for himself and the neighbor directly adjacent to the marina property, he called the expansion “illegal” adding, “People will be drinking 30 feet from residents’ homes near their yards and kids.” Sikand called for an independent investigation to determine what actually happened, ending with, “We will make sure the marina does not open this spring.” He accused officials of ignoring his previous correspondence on the alleged violations.
“We acted immediately, visited the site, took measurements and photographs and notified (Oceanport Borough Administrator) John O. Bennett,” explained FMERA Executive Director Bruce Steadman. “The marina operator is preparing CAFRA applications. We are supporting that process and responded in an appropriate manner.” Work has stopped on the portion of the building cited in the state’s Notice of Violation.
At issue is the expansion of a previously existing marina building by approximately 1,750 feet and the change in use into a restaurant and bar, as well as the expansion of the building over the top of the bulkhead.
“The Army has a different permitting process and should be able to help us with permitting,” Queenan said. “We are still in the early stages to determine the best course of action.” She said the two pre-existing violations performed by the Army include a bulkhead on the west side of the property and reconfiguration of some docks that the DEP found the Army performed without a permit.
“Existing docks have been reconfigured, expanded or extended beyond the limits of the license area by the Army,” she added. “We haven’t reconfigured the docks because we thought it was done properly. The building was there. Our objective is not to create noise and traffic. The property is zoned commercial. No one has reached out to us to ask about our plans. We would be more than happy to sit and discuss it with the neighbors.”
“The state owns the property up to the mean water line,” said FMERA Director of Facilities Planning Rick Harrison. “We are trying to bring the property to full compliance. It must be resolved. We are working with the DEP and expect the marina will be open for the boating season and the restaurant open in spring.”
By John Burton and Laura D.C. Kolnoski. John Burton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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