BELMAR, NJ — Closing Belmar’s boardwalk didn’t work in keeping out-of-towners away during the off-season. Neither did restricting parking to residents only on the streets closest to its beachfront — even with the state’s stay-at-home order in effect.
So now with Memorial Day weekend just weeks away, Belmar officials are changing course on how to manage the anticipated influx of visitors during the coronavirus crisis. The 1.3-mile boardwalk has been reopened to pedestrians only, parking restrictions have been lifted and the beach remains open, as the focus has now been placed on strictly enforcing social distancing rules.
In a town that grows from nearly 6,000 year-round residents to 60,000 with seasonal renters, visitors and day-trippers on a sizzling summer weekend, officials hope this new strategy will begin to address public safety and health concerns — and will continue to be fine-tuned as expectations turn into reality.
“We have opened parking on Ocean Avenue to try to keep visitors out of residential areas. Our total concentration now is on social distancing because it is impossible to keep nonresidents in their own neighborhoods,” Walsifer said in a letter released on the borough’s website on May 8 — hours after the boardwalk was reopened.
Earlier in the week at the borough council meeting, officials said that police patrols and drones will be monitoring the situation along the beachfront. In addition, signage detailing the coronavirus-related rules have already been placed along the boardwalk.
“If we can’t be social distant, the beaches will be shut down,” Walsifer said during that May 5 meeting.
Three days later in his letter to residents, Walsifer said that last weekend’s warm and sunny weather convinced officials it was time for a change in strategy. “We tried encouraging residents from other areas to stay in their own towns. No matter how hard we tried to keep people in their own neighborhoods, our town was inundated with nonresidents,” he said.
And although Gov. Phil Murphy has not yet officially released guidance to Jersey Shore towns on opening their beachfronts with the traditional start of the summer season looming, his office “made it abundantly clear that it is illegal to restrict nonresidents from visiting our town and using our beaches,” Walsifer said.
In addition, the Police Department was overwhelmed trying to handle parking issues in the residents-only areas, as well as trying to keep pedestrians and bicycles out of traffic lanes on Ocean Avenue with the closing of the boardwalk and parking spaces along the east side of the roadway blocked, he said.
But on the morning of May 8, all that changed. The boardwalk was opened with more room for walkers and joggers as the benches were removed to also prevent people from gathering. In addition, the prohibition of bicycles, skateboards, roller blades, scooters and dogs from the walkway at all times will be strictly enforced. In addition, the four beachfront playgrounds remain closed under state mandate.
However, many of the food establishments along Ocean Avenue have opened, offering takeout only without outdoor dining permitted under state coronavirus-related rules.
Walsifer also said the police department is forming a task force to address “day and night” social distancing as summer approaches.
“With this pandemic, we will be adjusting as it evolves. We are in constant contact with the governor's office, the Monmouth County Freeholders and are coordinating with all the mayors of our shore towns. We are still taking direction from the governor's office as to beach openings,” he said, adding that a formal plan is expected to be put in place by May 15.
- Click here for Walsifer’s entire letter on reopening the boardwalk and rescinding parking regulations.
- Click here for a list of Belmar’s reopening rules and regulations.
- Click here for more information on the Park Mobile app for contactless paid parking along the beachfront.
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