Belmar Pauses Plan for New Municipal Complex Until After Prime Summer Season

Brandywine’s plan includes (at top) a police headquarters, municipal court and borough offices, and gym on Seventh Avenue, and residential units, stores and a five-story parking deck on Sixth Avenue. Credits: Brandywine
The aging Belmar Municipal Building at 601 Main Street, which was retrofitted from an auto repair shop in 1984, would be replaced under a public-private proposal to redevelop the entire block. Credits: Cathy Goetz

BELMAR, NJ — With the summer quickly approaching in this beachfront community, Belmar officials have put on hold a developer’s plan to transform an entire block on Main Street into new municipal offices, stores, apartments and a parking garage.

At the borough council’s May 15 meeting, Mayor Brian Magovern said that discussions with developer Brandywine Financial Corp. have not moved along as swiftly as had been anticipated, prompting his request to table any formal consideration of the project for six months.

Under the proposed public-private partnership, Brandywine would construct the sprawling complex on Belmar-owned property bounded by Main Street, River Road, and Sixth and Seventh Avenues, including the current municipal building. Since Brandywine unveiled its conceptual plan in March, it has drawn mixed reviews from the public, particularly in terms of its scope and size.

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“It’s too close to summer to deal with an issue this important to Belmar,” Magovern told the governing body, whose members welcomed the request as the borough prepares to enter its prime season for business and tourism.

“It’s not like it is one single building. There is a lot involved,” said Council President Jennifer Nicolay. “It was very preliminary what was presented and it’s an exciting opportunity for the Belmar community, but the time is difficult right now.”

Councilman Mark Levis, who was not a member of the governing body when it was unveiled, said he is concerned the ambitious project is too big for Belmar. “We need a new borough hall, but this is not the right project to be able to do here. It would be great to get it for for free, but my concern is that we’re giving too much away.”

Councilman Mark Walsifer, who cast the only dissenting vote to move the project forward when Brandywine officials unveiled its conceptual plan, continued his push for the establishment of a committee to delve into concerns about its effects on traffic, school services, and police, fire and first aid services in the community.

“We really need to start to take a real hard look at (the proposal),” he said. “Everyone is going to be involved.”

According to Brandywine’s plan, the Chadds Ford, Pa.-based private real estate investment and management company would construct the project under a 25-year financial agreement and lease purchase agreement with the borough. The estimated tax revenue resulting from the private side of the project would pay for the construction of the new municipal building, under the partnership.

As for the project itself, the borough would get a new police headquarters, municipal court and borough administrative offices in an 18,000-square-foot three-floor structure and a separate 10,000-square-foot domed gymnasium — all wrapping around the corner of Seventh Avenue and River Road. Belmar Arts Center would move from its current River Road location to gallery space on the Main Street side of the project.

On the private side, there would be 206 residential units on four floors and retail space on the first floor along Sixth Avenue. A five-story parking deck with a River Road entrance would provide some 500 spaces — 130 for borough workers and the public and 370 for residents of the apartments, plus 20 surface spots for the public.

During the May 15 council meeting, Mayor Magovern asked William Northgrave, the borough’s redevelopment attorney, whether the borough can put out a request for other proposals (RFP) for a new municipal complex — “to give us another deal, a smaller deal.”

While the borough could issue an RFP to choose a developer, as well as the style and size of the project, Northgrave suggested the council may first want to establish parameters for such a plan, including costs in balancing the borough’s needs in terms of municipal services and the developer’s needs in terms of private investment to fund the project.

“You may need ‘X’ number of (residential units) to meet expectations,” he said. “So you may need to balance things out and understand why the project has to be a certain size and can make policy decisions from there.”

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