I am writing to call upon the power of the press to share a story that is not only important to me and residents of my town but even more so, representative of the shortcomings of how municipal planning and zoning is conducted in general.
While I can’t undo the decision last night on April 19, I do believe the experience can shed light and maybe have a positive impact on the process and future cases.
The Hazlet Township Land Use Board voted to approve an application for the expansion of The Shore Point Motel. The approval gives the inn, located at 3360 Route 35, which has currently 19 rooms, the ability to expand to 50 rooms.
The board was presented with a document last night that I requested and was provided by the Hazlet Police Department under OPRA (Open Public Records Act) which lists calls of service by the police to the Shore Point Inn since 2006.
The 15-plus page report – 40 calls per page – contains a mixture of non-threatening and very concerning calls. About 40 percent, or 235, of the calls included sex offender, theft, weapons violation, burglary, motor vehicle theft, assault, narcotics, domestic disturbance, disorderly conduct, warrant, criminal mischief, drug overdose and unattended death.
The Shore Point Motel provides housing to people in need, which I respect, but it also has been a haven for drug addicts and criminals for decades. Several crimes committed in our neighborhoods over the years have tracked back to residents of the hotel. Most recently and most disturbing occurred last fall – a Newspaper Media Group article on Nov. 8, 2017, written by Vashti Harris. Christopher Kingsbury moved to the Shore Point Inn after being released from N.J. State Prison and began raiding multiple homes in our neighborhood and surrounding towns over several nights while people were home asleep. We are grateful to the Hazlet Police for quick action in his arrest. There was a list many of charges including possession of a weapon for unlawful purpose. My family and neighbors were terrified during this time.
Planning and zoning meeting procedure needs to change.
Once the public portion of the meeting was closed on April 19, the applicant altered previous testimony, and when we in the public objected, we were prevented from rebutting. In addition, once the board was presented with the OPRA document, all board members were not afforded the opportunity to review and assess the report before a vote. At the very least, it would have permitted time to address very real security concerns and draft a responsible plan to protect citizens and allow the applicant to expand his business.
I respect the folks in towns who volunteer their time and service to their communities. I was a planning board member for several years myself. We as citizens rely on boards to act in the best interest of the public. I believe there was a path that could have responsibly addressed security concerns and allow the business expansion. This case deserved more consideration when the OPRA document was introduced as evidence and the applicant changed his testimony after the public portion of the meeting was closed. Instead, there was a rush to a vote and an approval – a very disappointing outcome.