By Jay Cook |
ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS – With a new wave of businesses and modern mixed-use housing stock adding flair along First Avenue, members of Atlantic Highlands’ now majority-Democratic governing body said they are excited for the borough’s future.
Speaking at the annual reorganization meeting, held on a bone-chilling New Year’s Day at noon in borough hall, Mayor Randi Le Grice confidently said Atlantic Highlands is on the right path to attract the millennial population. Millennials are now the largest living generation in the United States with 75.4 million people, compared to the baby boomers now at 74.9 million Americans, Le Grice said.
What’s the draw? Le Grice believes a healthy diversity of businesses and housing options along First Avenue is the main attraction. She said in 2017 the borough welcomed nine new businesses to the town’s bustling commercial boulevard which links the highway and the harbor. Four others expanded or relocated in town and another two tenants are under new ownership. She said it’s helped to “finally eliminate the unsightly vacant lots.”
Combined with three new mixed-use residential complexes around First Avenue, along with a downtown in walkable distance from homes and a major transportation hub with Seastreak ferry at the municipal harbor, Le Grice said the borough is sure to draw a desirable influx of millennials.
She affirmed the belief that millennials want to live, work, spend and play all in the immediate area around their homes, all of which can happen in Atlantic Highlands.
“It makes us an attractive location to both developers and future residents,” she said. “Our task is to make sure we create the right balance to remain a vital and desirable place to live.”
Helping usher in that vision will be the two newly elected borough council members, Democrats Jon Crowley and Thomas Hayden III, both elected to municipal government positions for the first time. Both political newcomers were respectively both sworn in alongside their families by U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-6).
Hayden, also of the millennial generation, believes “bridging that generational gap” will be key to ensuring Atlantic Highlands’ success throughout his tenure. A union representative with the New Jersey Education Association, Hayden added the solution lies in making government attractive to those who don’t participate.
He said millennials “don’t necessarily find government entertaining, interesting or useful. We need to make people see getting involved will help government work for them.”
His running mate, Jon Crowley, an award-winning television executive producer, said creating a healthy environment in the downtown will be a driving factor to the fiscal stability along First Avenue.
“We talked about wanting to preserve the look and the feel of our town – continue to keep it a safe place for people to live,” Crowley said.
Crowley said by improving road conditions and providing arts-based activities, Atlantic Highlands can flourish. One issue mentioned was the “parking situation that’s developing, considering our town’s becoming more and more popular.”
He said the governing body would first ask residents their thoughts on parking options, saying a parking garage wouldn’t be the first immediate choice. Private-public partnerships and input from the incoming business community are all discussions to be had soon.
“We don’t want to get into a situation like some of the towns nearby where people don’t want to go in at night because they can’t find a place to park,” Crowley added.
During her mayoral address, Le Grice also noted 2018 “is the first time I can recall” a Democratic Party majority on the borough council. Crowley, Hayden, Roy Dellosso and Charles Lero make up the Democratic roster. The sole Republican remaining is Stephen Boracchia; longtime councilman Louis Fligor is unaffiliated.
Yet even with the new political sway, Le Grice went out of her way to say council members should not blindly agree along party lines and encouraged conversations with different perspectives. She also said there are more unaffiliated voters in Atlantic Highlands than there are registered Republicans or Democrats.
“At the local level, we are first neighbors, voting for the candidates we hope will best serve our community,” she said. “After the election results, whether we win or lose, each candidate still remains your neighbor who has volunteered to shape the future of Atlantic Highlands.”
At the nearly hour-long meeting, Democrat fixture Dellosso was appointed the borough council president by a 4-1 vote; Lero was not present. The borough also appointed a new attorney, Carol Berlen of the Rainone, Coughlin, Minchello law firm in Woodbridge. Fligor and Boracchia motioned in favor of appointing Bernard Reilly, last year’s borough attorney, yet rescinded it when the numbers were against them.
This article was first published in the Jan. 11-18, 2018 print edition of the Two River Times.
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