by Erik Weber
PINE BEACH – Citing increasing costs, members of the Pine Beach Volunteer Fire Company voted Thursday night, March 7th to officially close down their meeting hall on Prospect Avenue.
The structure was built in 1958, expanded in 1974 and named Schiel Hall in honor of longtime chief and company secretary Charles Schiel, who served from 1939 to 1971.
Councilman and past company chief Barry Wieck reported at the Monday night council work meeting that the hall would have all the water drained from its heating system and electric service shut off to try and reduce the average $1,200 monthly utility bills the company pays throughout their facility.
“It was all built before people were concerned about the cost of energy so there’s no insulation,” he said. “It’s cool in the winter and warm in the summer, just the opposite of what you want.”
“We’re going to have to move the general election back to here,” the former chief added.
Councilman Robert Budesa asked whether the fire company was still pursuing the sale of their lots across from the firehouse, which were commonly used for parking during events at the hall.
“They’re still pursuing it but nobody’s interested,” replied Mr. Wieck.
In other news from the early March work meeting of the mayor and council:
Mayor Lawrence Cuneo brought up the idea of the governing body adopting the Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] Advisory Base Flood Elevation [ABFE] maps, adding that the land use board spoke about the issue at their meeting the previous Thursday evening.
“They wanted one change, to put into it stating just to follow the maps as adopted so that we don’t have to keep coming back to update it,” he reported. “They didn’t like it, but that’s the hand we’re dealt right now so in order to try and help the residents with this we should adopt these so people, if they need the ICC [FEMA's Increased Cost of Compliance] money to help raise their houses, they can get that and other people can get flood insurance.”
Council President Richard “Ritty” Polhemus asked the mayor whether he knew how many homes in Pine Beach would be affected by the advisory maps.
“We’re trying to get an exact number but Jack [Mallon, of the borough's engineering firm of Ernst, Ernst & Lissenden] thought about 30,” the mayor said. “He said no more than 30 but he thinks less than that.”
He added that residents may go onto the FEMA ABFE website at www.region2coastal.com and enter their address to find what projected flood zone they may be in.
Mayor Cuneo stated that while the maps were released shortly after the hurricane, the agency had been working on them for some time prior to that and “it just happened to be New Jersey’s turn to get it.”
The ABFE would not be official for some time, as new preliminary flood insurance rate maps are due to be completed later this summer, after which a regulatory process that could take up to a year and a half will begin, allowing the ABFE to possibly be lowered before final adoption sometime in the second half of 2014.
A second topic discussed at the land use board meeting, the mayor reported, was the idea of waiving height restrictions only for those homeowners who had to raise their homes to comply with the new ABFE standards, as other local waterfront communities have done in recent months.
It was decided they would seek out some of the ordinances adopted by nearby municipalities to possibly write one of their own.
Mayor Cuneo reported that the borough, which had recently undergone a town-wide property reassessment to go into effect in 2014, showed a loss of approximately 20 percent in value, from $306 million to between $240 and $244 million.
“Nornally we don’t like to see that but in this case it’s going to be okay for us – it brings the properties into line where they should be so people aren’t overly assessed and those who appeal get the benefit of it while their neighbors are paying more than they should be,” he said, adding that the lowering of the assessment “should hopefully ease some of [the regional school tax] burden we have to take over because of the less valuation than the other towns.”
The other towns within the regional district that are taxed based on the combined total valuation include Beachwood, South Toms River and Toms River.
Due to the issues ongoing on the bayside of the barrier island due to the effects of Hurricane Sandy, a company that holds swim clinics for triathlon participants previously held in Lavallette applied for permission to hold the classes in the waters of the Toms River off Pine Beach instead, stated Mayor Cuneo.
“They get people in to show the transitions between swimming, biking and running,” he continued, noting that they had requested permission to run the classes on Saturdays throughout May.
“I don’t think it’s a bad thing for us from the perspective of it helps,” said Mr. Budesa.
“I don’t think it will hurt to get some people over to this side, maybe 50 people, to show off our town,” added Mayor Cuneo, stating that they would need to park in appropriate areas and not in areas where they might receive a ticket for parking in a parking permit area.
“The last thing we want is to invite them into town and here’s a ticket – that’s not the goodwill we’re trying to spread,” he laughed.
Borough Clerk Charlene Carney asked whether the classes could be held at Avon Road Beach due to the large and underused parking lot there.
“Yeah, probably Avon so they can go swim in either direction they want,” replied the mayor.
Capstan Avenue, Pine Beach
The previously contested property owned by the Suarez family was brought up at the meeting, as the Northern Ocean Habitat for Humanity [NOHFH] had taken it over and were actively engaging the Pine Beach and Beachwood governing bodies regarding utilities, municipal services and taxes.
The property, which for years was a hotly debated issue between the town and its owners, is located on a parcel of land at the eastern end of Capstan Avenue, in Beachwood, but within the boundary of Pine Beach and surrounded by the wooded area adjacent the elementary school. The current structure there was built sometime in the mid-20th century, and due to its location, NOHFH must depend upon Pine Beach to either provide services in a hard-to-reach location or enter into an interlocal agreement with Beachwood for them to provide utility hookup and service plus trash and recycling pickup.
NOHFH is a non-profit ecumenical housing ministry that works in partnership with low-income households to improve the housing in which they live by providing the capital and skills needed to renovate or build simple, decent homes for those who are without adequate housing at an affordable price.
On the difficult property location, Mayor Cuneo stated that “we don’t run anything [utilities] through there and for garbage and recycling and everything else, the way the street dead-ends and the way the property dead-ends in Beachwood, we don’t access it in Pine Beach.”
He added that the improvements proposed by the non-profit were already approved by the land use board and Beachwood neighbors who attended the meeting spoke in favor of the project.
Due to both governing bodies using the same law firm of Hiering, Gannon and McKenna of Toms River for legal services, it was accepted that a resolution would be brought before the council at their Wednesday night regular meeting to approve the hiring of Kevin Sheehy of King, Kitrick, Jackson & McWeeney of Brick to handle the agreement. Mr. Sheehy is currently the borough’s land use board attorney, and the mayor and council felt his familiarity to the property as well as Pine Beach in general would allow him to “do a fine job.”
False Alarm Fines
Mr. Polhemus reported he was contacted by Pine Beach Volunteer Fire Company President Jay Sonnenfeld regarding the introduction and adoption of an ordinance affixing fines to properties that produce multiple false alarms for emergency services.
“I know a particular home, since the beginning of January, they’ve responded to four times,” he said. “Mostly it’s not the residents, it’s their aids there doing cooking and setting off the alarms or smoking in the house – unfortunately at these types of homes they don’t have a choice, they have to respond.”
The council president added that the danger and expense of having fire company members rushing in their personal vehicles to get to the station and then rushing in the apparatus to respond to the scene of a false alarm multiple times was a detriment across the board, and that Mr. Sonnenfeld was looking into other area municipalities that have a similar ordinance they are looking to have introduced.
“I think it’s a low threshold, like two times and you pay $100 or something [starting with the third],” said Mr. Budesa.
Pine Beach Police Chief John M. Sgro stated that sometimes responding officers are able to hold the engines back when a false alarm is suspected, but that at least the chief or an official from the company still must respond even in their own vehicle as the police are neither trained nor authorized to make a determination on a fire service call.
Mr. Polhemus stated that they would look to collect more information from ordinances of other municipalities and further the effort to address the issue at their next work meeting at the end of March.
Trees, Trees Everywhere
Borough resident, Toms River High School South senior and regular environmental volunteer Lindsey Van Zile reported to the governing body that her parents had attended a New Jersey Tree Foundation meeting for her and received “tons of information about Arbor Day” and signed up to receive many free trees, approximately 100, to plant across the borough or just for residents to plant in their yards.
She added that she spoke with Pine Beach Principal Tricia Tutzauer about getting schoolchildren involved in an Arbor Day project there and was also interested in working with local scouting organizations for further planting opportunities.
After various council members joked that they should plant a number of them along Riverside Drive particularly between the mayor’s house and his family’s view of the river, Mayor Cuneo stated that one good area could be along Washington Avenue adjacent the soccer fields and spectators bleachers as they could provide shade where there currently was none.
Mr. Wieck stated another idea would be to advertise for residents to pick up the trees free at the annual town-wide yard sale to plant in their yards.
“You’ve almost single-handedly taken care of cleaning up Pine Beach, between picking up garbage and planting,” said Mr. Polhemus. “We’re proud of you.”
Mary Jane Steib stated that possibly $40,000 or more could be allocated for beach replenishment in the coming year, depending whether it could be entered into the budget – depending upon the impact of the town reassessment – or acquired through a capital improvement ordinance, the latter of which could allow more money to be utilized.
Sign or Home
Councilman Andrew Keczkemethy stated that two residents had approached him asking whether signs present on several undersized lots within the town advertising homes to be built to suit on them could be removed.
“As long as the signs are conforming with our ordinance regarding signs, we can’t do anything,” replied Mr. Budesa.
“So we have to live with the signs for the next 40 years?” asked Mr. Keczkemethy.
“The sign would be better than a house,” said Mr. Budesa.
Independence Day Parade Planning
Mr. Wieck stated that the first Fourth of July event meeting was slated for March 20th at 6:30 pm in borough hall and asked for anyone interested to attend who had a suggestion for a theme, a grand marshal or to volunteer.