By KENNY WALTER
SEA BRIGHT — Before moving forward with implementing redevelopment zones, the Borough Council has opted to meet with at least one potentially impacted developer.
During the Sept. 15 Borough Workshop meeting, attorney Martin McGann, representing the owners of the former school building on River Street, requested a meeting with borough officials over concerns regarding potential redevelopment zones, which under law could lead to the use of eminent domain.
“We are not opposed to redevelopment, but we are concerned about the condemnation element of the redevelopment, which is a drastic action that government can take,” McGann said. “Especially in the context of where you’re taking it from a property owner who is willing to redevelop it.
“It can be a very volatile, explosive issue in any community, and you know neighboring communities here were torn apart. I would like to meet with whatever committee the mayor and council decide to do, with counsel and sit down and try to work through this issue.”
However, Councilman Marc Leckstein, a proponent of creating the redevelopment zones, said the council does not intend to exercise the power of eminent domain.
“We are not talking about eminent domain right now — that’s not on the table,” he said. “I personally would like to proceed with the designation of redevelopment. I certainly would like to sit down with Mr. McCann.
“No one wants to use eminent domain if we don’t have to.”
According to Leckstein, if the borough creates a redevelopment zone for the school property, which has been vacant for several years, they can work with the developer on a redevelopment plan that fits the needs of both the borough and the developer and eliminate the need for variances.
Mayor Dina Long requested that the council put off any action on the redevelopment zones until meeting with McGann. Long also said she would like the process to move along quicker because there are stray animals calling the vacant school home, which she pointed out was a risk to the surrounding neighborhood.
McGann explained the process of gaining approvals for the school property has had many hurdles.
“My client received approval to develop this property in 2007. Unfortunately, right after that happened my client’s wife passed away,” he said. “So I ran into an emotional delay at that point. We all know what happened in 2008 — we ran into a very depressed real estate economy, and we know what happened in 2012 when we had superstorm Sandy.
“We then proceeded in front of the planning board with an amended application sometime thereafter.”
McGann said the developer sought approval for 13 housing units on the property, but was rejected by the planning board.
“My client has every intention of pursuing the development approvals of this matter and is prepared to file another application before the planning board, addressing the concerns of the planning board of why they denied that application,” he said.
In 2014, the planning board studied 21 vacant, underutilized or storm-damaged properties to determine whether they meet the criteria for redevelopment, including 13 privately owned lots fronting the Shrewsbury River; the former sites of a pharmacy, dry cleaner, gas station, post office and three parking lots on Ocean Avenue; and the former school property.