Residents Question Little Silver Tavern Site

July 30, 2018
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By Jay Cook

Local developers propose to demolish the former Pix Shoes building at 51 Oceanport Ave. and replace it with a Brickwall Tavern. The project was met with resident opposition at the first meeting July 19. It has been carried to Aug. 16. Photo by Jay Cook

LITTLE SILVER – A bar fight may be brewing over the proposed location for Brickwall Tavern, which has the borough’s first and only liquor license.

About 50 borough residents, most of whom live in the Townhomes of Little Silver development located off Oceanport and Sycamore avenues, packed Little Silver borough hall July 19 to voice their concerns about the proposed tavern set to replace the former Pix Shoes building at 51 Oceanport Ave.

“It’s just crazy what’s happening now,” said longtime resident Gilda Niro.

The developers, Kelly 29, LLC, plan to build a 11,480- square-foot, two-story tavern on the 0.63-acre plot adjacent to the NJ Transit Little Silver station parking lot. It will have seating for 250 patrons. Two bars are proposed on the first level, as well as a third bar and outdoor balcony seating on the second floor, according to site plans filed at borough hall.

Neighbors who live along Whitesands Way, Essex Drive and Eastborne Avenue were in attendance to air their concerns. Days before the meeting, literature opposing the project was placed in mailboxes throughout the complex to inform residents of the project.

There were so many questions from the residents that testimony for only one expert lasted over two hours. The application was carried to Aug. 16.

Kelly 29, LLC is seeking 10 variances and a number of different design waivers.

Aerial map of proposed Brickwall Tavern site.

One major concern was traffic flow in and out of the property. According to project engineer James Kennedy, the main entrance would be along Oceanport Avenue, which is also County Route 11. Drivers would be able to turn left and right from Oceanport Avenue into the property but are restricted to only making a right turn when leaving. Monmouth County has prohibited a left turn onto Oceanport Avenue when exiting, he said.

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Where that pushes the exiting traffic remains a question. Kelly 29, LLC retained McDonough & Rea Associates, Manasquan, for their traffic study. Little Silver has also hired a traffic expert, Lake Como- based Dynamic Traffic, to answer questions from the board and review the applicant’s numbers.

Testimony from either traffic expert was not provided but is expected at a later meeting. Residents, however, did not want to wait.

“I can’t use my back porch when the racetrack is open because the fumes pumping off of Oceanport Avenue,” said Tom Kennedy of Whitesands Way. “This is going to be adding to it. I also feel from a safety point of view that it’s dangerous.”

“We have a great problem there,” added John La Monda. “The cars go from Oceanport Avenue through Essex Drive to get to the parking of the railroad station.”

Planning Board Chairman John Chimento said the board wants to know, as well. “We’re very concerned about it,” he said.

Another pressing issue for neighbors and Planning Board members was the parking situation – Kennedy said there are only 36 proposed spaces on site. Jennifer Krimko, attorney for Kelly 29, LLC said they’re currently working with NJ Transit to come up with an easement agreement to design a driveway into the NJ Transit’s Little Silver station parking lot and lease a piece of that lot for patrons to use. The two properties are currently separated by only a few feet.

Krimko said she wasn’t aware of any site in the state where NJ Transit permitted an easement lease for parking.

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“We recognize that this site, in and of itself, can’t support this restaurant,” she added. “Should we get to the place where there’s an approval, it would be contingent upon acquiring such an agreement (with NJ Transit).”

Michael Leckstein, Little Silver’s Planning Board attorney, said, “the parking is going to be fundamental to this whole thing.”

Asbury Park-based Smith Group is the restaurateur.

The Little Silver location would become their ninth restaurant in New Jersey if approved, according to their website. It would be the second Brickwall Tavern in Smith Group’s portfolio as they opened the first one in Asbury Park in 2006. Two other Brickwall Taverns are located in Philadelphia and Burlington City, New Jersey.

The tavern would be open from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. The applicant sought a 2 a.m. closing time but must adhere to borough ordinance.

That ordinance was set up after Little Silver residents voted 801-736 in 2015 to grant a commercial liquor license. Matthew Kelly, who co-owns Oceanport-based Kelly Builders & Developers with his brother, pushed it to referendum after collecting hundreds of signatures. He’s also the sole principal of Kelly 29, LLC, according to planning documents.

Brickwall at Little Silver, LLC paid $350,000 for the liquor license. Kelly was also a principal in that company.

Per a borough ordinance approved July 11, 2016, only a “bona fide restaurant” can control that liquor license. The 12-page-long ordinance has a number of stipulations: no eating or drinking at counters; a designated coat rack area outside the dining room; no eating or drinking in any outdoor area beyond the building’s footprint; and live music is only permitted inside, among other rules.

This article was first published in the July 26-Aug. 2, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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