Creating better public access to the beaches and related facilities is a crucial part of the updated master plan.

By Donald Wittkowski

Sea Isle City planners want to fast-track a series of proposed projects for flood control, beach access, recreation and parking to prevent them from getting bogged down in negotiations with the state over the town’s affordable housing obligations.

The projects are contained in Sea Isle’s updated master plan, a sweeping blueprint to oversee growth, economic development, housing construction, transportation and other key issues affecting the beach town.

The master plan has been updated for the first time in 10 years, but the entire 58-page document can’t be formally adopted by the Planning Board until Sea Isle finalizes an agreement to comply with the state’s affordable housing requirements.

Planning Board members say it will likely be months before a vote is taken to approve the master plan. They are worried about lengthy delays that could prevent the city from moving ahead with some of the other recommendations that have nothing to do with affordable housing.

Although the housing aspects in the master plan remain in limbo, the Planning Board doesn’t want to wait for other projects to get underway. It has directed its attorney to send a letter to City Council outlining a list of nonhousing recommendations that it considers to be a high priority.

Andrew Previti, the Planning Board engineer, is expected to appear at the Council meeting on Tuesday to discuss the master plan and propose a list of projects he believes could get started by the city, separate from the housing negotiations.

The master plan is a blueprint for overseeing growth, economic development and other key issues in town.
The master plan is a blueprint for overseeing growth, economic development and other key issues in town.

Of particular importance, the Planning Board wants the city to move ahead with a series of flood-control measures without delay. “The city should implement a comprehensive Flood Control Plan in partnership with the County to address flooding issues,” the master plan says.

Previti, speaking at the Jan. 9 Planning Board meeting, noted that it will take the combined funding resources of the city, county, state and federal governments to build projects that would reduce flooding throughout Sea Isle for the next 20 years.

“The solutions to the problems will cost a lot of money,” he said.

Another project that is considered a “high funding priority” in the master plan is the proposed conversion of the now-closed Sea Isle City Public School into a community recreation center.

The school closed in 2012 due to declining student enrollment. Since then, there has been debate over whether to demolish or redevelop the school site. The Planning Board recommends conducting a study to determine the best way of using the school for community recreation.

Beach access is another issue considered a top priority by the Planning Board. The board would like the city to improve access to the beach and related amenities by building new walkways over the dunes, restrooms, bike racks and storage areas for kayaks.

New projects to solve the city's parking shortage are considered a high priority.
New projects to solve the city’s parking shortage are considered a high priority.

Altogether, the master plan includes 42 recommendations, including a series of proposed changes to solve what are widely considered the town’s most serious problems — overdevelopment and a lack of parking. Most of the recommendations grew out of a community survey conducted in 2015 that generated more than 3,300 responses from the public.

Two principal complaints that emerged from the survey were overdevelopment and a shortage of parking. Hoping to alleviate those problems, the Planning Board has proposed a number of changes to reduce density and create more parking.

Among the recommendations, some of the commercial areas would be rezoned as residential to curb overdevelopment. In addition, the plan includes a series of proposed requirements in residential and commercial areas that would lead to more parking.

Satellite parking lots, the construction of more off-street public parking areas and the use of seasonal and weekly parking permits for both residents and visitors are other recommendations to improve parking throughout town.

The Planning Board has been working on the master plan for more than a year and was originally scheduled to take a final vote to approve it at its December meeting. However, Chairwoman Patricia Urbaczewski announced a vote would be postponed until the city reaches an agreement to comply with the state’s affordable housing requirements.

Sea Isle officials met in November with a judge who is overseeing a court case involving the affordable housing requirements for several municipalities. The judge has given Sea Isle until February to reach agreement with the state on the number of affordable housing units that would be built in the town.

Once an agreement is reached, the affordable housing requirements would be incorporated into the updated master plan. That, in turn, would allow the Planning Board to take a vote to approve the entire document. Urbaczewski indicated a vote may not come until mid-2017.

Sea Isle last updated its master plan in 2007. Under New Jersey law, municipalities are required to update their master plans every 10 years. Sea Isle is actually months ahead of schedule, which gives it some flexibility and more time for approving the document.

The master plan juggles the needs of Sea Isle's year-round residents with those of its tourist market.
The master plan juggles the needs of Sea Isle’s year-round residents with those of its tourist market.