BELMAR, NJ — Before an ambitious redevelopment plan for downtown Belmar is considered in any way, borough officials want the developer to prove it’s serious about the project.

And as the first step in that process, Dobco Inc. must first enter into contracts with the owners of several properties needed to transform a three-block area between Main Street and the Shark River, including the site of the current municipal complex, into a sprawling mixed-use development.

In designating Dobco as the project’s “conditional developer” under a resolution approved on March 3, the borough council is requiring the Wayne-based company to formally lock up those agreements in 45 days. In addition, a “satisfactory redevelopment agreement” must be provided and approved by Belmar officials within six months.

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And in 30 days, Dobco is also being required to place its first $125,000 in an escrow account so that the borough can begin examining the project’s impact on parking, traffic and overall infrastructure, as well as any other studies deemed necessary. And $15,000 of those funds would be set aside to pay the borough attorney for preparing the redevelopment agreement.

As funds are used for these studies, the developer will also need to ensure that the account does not fall under $50,000 and remains at a minimum balance of $125,000, according to the resolution.

“We’re putting their feet to fire,” Mayor Mark Walsifer said, calling the current proposal "a pie in the sky" plan that will require countless changes, if it moves forward.  “We have to start somewhere … This is exploratory to see if they’re serious.”

The seaport redevelopment project presented to the council by Dobco Group on February 4 calls for a hotel and conference center, three buildings consisting of residential and retail/commercial space — with one building dedicated to senior housing — a community amphitheater along the riverfront promenade and a ferry terminal for service to New York City.

The plan encompasses the area bounded by River Road through Sixth and Seventh Avenues from Main Street to the banks of the river, including the municipal complex, which would be relocated.

READ MORE: Belmar Gets First Look at Major Redevelopment Plan for Downtown Seaport District

During the March 3 meeting, Walsifer explained that since entering into contracts with the private property owners is the driver of the project, “We need to tie up these properties before we even talk. These properties are key to the project.”

The Dobco proposal was formally submitted after the borough council issued a nonbinding request for proposals (RFP) in October 2019 for a new municipal complex, which currently sits within the scope of the redevelopment project between Main Street, River Road and Sixth and Seventh Avenues.

According to Walsifer, the RFP was triggered after the owners of three adjacent properties expressed interest in pursuing their own joint development plan just north on the municipal complex — Ollie Klein III, owner of Klein’s Fish Market and Waterside Café at the corner of River Road and Main Street, R.J. Langbein, owner of Belmar Paint & Decorating at 511 Main Street, and Greg Kapalko of Loko Co., developer of the proposed Eastport residential project along River Road.

In comments before the governing body took its vote on March 3, Councilman James McCracken received a clarification from Borough Attorney Jerry Dasti that the resolution designating Dobco as the conditional developer was “in no way” an endorsement of the proposal. “We want to take the time to do it right. This gets money into a pot so we can start evaluating it,” McCracken said.

Council President Thomas Brennan stressed the importance of having the impact studies conducted by independent professionals selected by the borough. “We not going to get any spinto make the proposal look more favorable than it is. The numbers (we get) we’re going to trust.”

During the public comment session before the council approved the resolution, former Councilman Mark Levis, who also is a marine engineer and former chairman of the Belmar Harbor Commission, expressed several concerns over the proposal.

In specifically addressing what he called the “fairy tale” about the proposed ferry service, Levis said that the project would require a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineering. “It’s not easy to get since the location is in way of a federal navigational channel,” he said, suggesting that an RFP be issued for the service.

Levis also did not want to see Belmar as the testing ground one of the first hydrogen-powered ferry services, which is included in Dobco’s plan. Based on feasibility studies conducted for similar projects around the world, such a service would require a minimum 10,000-square-foot storage utility for the hydrogen, he said.

Levis also questioned placing nearly 800 parking spots in lower-level garages of mixed-use buildings proposed in the plan—most of which would be used by residents on those buildings. “Where would those cars go (when it floods)?” he said. “These residents won’t be there for long if their cars constantly keep on getting flooded.”

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