Summer is just around the corner, and for those who live at the Jersey Shore, that means two things are guaranteed: the mass influx of tourists is only weeks away, and contentious discussions pertaining to how best to balance the needs of local businesses and residents with seasonal visitors will inevitably be raised. Municipal governments often find themselves playing a careful balancing act, ensuring their towns remain hospitable to tourists and locals, two groups that often have differing opinions, goals, and needs.
This year, a most unlikely proposal seems to be causing quite the stir in Long Branch (and nearby Asbury Park): food trucks. That’s right! Those purveyors of greasy goodness might be coming to a beachfront near you, and some residents aren’t particularly happy about it. Sure, almost everyone likes a nice burger on a warm summer day, and it would definitely be convenient to be able to walk up from the sand directly to a food truck, never venturing more than a stone’s throw from the Atlantic. In Asbury Park, the opposition to this proposal has to do more with location that anything else; there were suggestions for North Beach, an area where the redevelopment has lagged, leaving the boardwalk mostly empty, creating a more peaceful, quiet environment. To park trucks along the boards would undoubtedly alter that "chill vibe" and the laid back attitude locals have come to enjoy.
In Long Branch, where an official food truck proposal has yet to be unveiled, there is already opposition to the plan. Unlike Asbury, Long Branch’s locals worry about the economic impact these trucks will have on nearby businesses. Remember, when the old West End boardwalk snack stand was destroyed during Sandy, the supposed benefit of not rebuilding the popular burger joint was that its absence would give a boost to local restaurants, many of which have become accustomed to delivering their food to hotels, beach cottages, and even the sand itself. The added competition of easily accessible food trucks could cut into their profits, which is disheartening given almost all of these businesses operate on a year-round basis, serving Long Branch after the tourists are long gone. Can anyone present a viable argument as to why, if the snack stand’s demise was good for the local businesses, adding new competition in the form of food trucks would also be beneficial?
These trucks aren’t the only thing being discussed around town. It certainly seems that when it comes to announcing new real-estate developments in Long Branch, controversy is never far behind. This time, the contention lies not on the oceanfront, but two blocks inland, along Brighton Avenue in the West End neighborhood. It was here, in this commercialized corner of the city, that a proposed development to accommodate Chabad at the Shore was rejected a few years ago for not complying with zoning ordinances. The specter of that debate, during which emotions ran high, was recently resurrected when it was announced that Chabad still hopes to construct a new building, replacing the long shuttered cinema on Ocean Avenue.
Chabad’s operations would be held on the second floor; the first would be reserved for retail. And yet, in a city like Long Branch, where it seems businesses come and go in the blink of an eye, often at the whim of the tourists who flock to the beachfront every summer, the proposed use of a commercial space for a non-profit is proving controversial. How will West End solve the dilemma of additional parking that would be needed? How would the rent on neighboring businesses be impacted by the new development?
Mayor Adam Schneider attempted to ease some of these concerns at the March 24th (2015) City Council meeting, assuring attendees there would not be any ordinances prohibiting the operating hours of whatever business leased the first floor (to comply with Chabad’s observation of the Sabbath) nor would the outdoor events frequently held across the street in West End Park be impacted by the organization moving to a new location. The proposal, still in the planning stages, has yet to be brought before the City Council, but the Mayor harkened to the businesses that already exist along Ocean Avenue as examples of what would fill the ground level of the new space. Additionally, according to Word on the Shore, the new development would expand the number of parking spaces, which would be shared with the neighboring businesses.
So, Long Branch locals and visitors alike, would you like to see food trucks along the Ocean? How about mixed-use development in West End? Also, if the zoning laws are altered, what will become of the vacant lot along Brighton Avenue, the former home of Sacred Circle New Age Center, destroyed by fire several years back? These are questions our little city is going to have to answer in the coming weeks; hopefully, all residents will take part in the discussion.