By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Property owners voted overwhelmingly against including an indoor swimming pool in Sea Isle City’s proposed community recreation center.
The city conducted an online survey to gauge community sentiment for a pool as plans are considered to redevelop the former Sea Isle public school at 4501 Park Road into a recreation facility.
In the survey, 76.2 percent of the respondents voted against the pool, while 23.8 percent were in support. In all, there were 2,552 votes, the city announced Wednesday.
Separately, the city included a nonbinding referendum on the Election Day ballot asking local residents whether they supported the pool. The vote was 489 against a pool and 386 in favor.
Sea Isle property owners who were not eligible to vote in the election were given an opportunity to voice their preference in a separate online community survey about the pool. City officials said they wanted to give a voice to all property owners before any decisions are made about the proposed project.
Based on the results of the referendum and online survey, City Council President J.B. Feeley said it is unlikely that a pool will be included in the recreation center.
“The people have spoken, and I believe the Council will go along with them,” Feeley said in an interview Wednesday.
A pool would add millions more to the cost of the recreation center and would also cause a bigger increase in taxes, according to preliminary estimates.
The city estimates a recreation center with a pool would cost between $17 million and $20 million, plus an additional $500,000 to $1 million annually to maintain and staff the new facility. A recreation center without a pool would come in with a $13 million to $16 million price tag.
City Business Administrator George Savastano said a recreation center with a pool would add between $300 and $400 in local taxes on an annual basis for a home assessed at $700,000. A center with no pool would add $100 to $200 in additional local taxes per year on the same house, he said.
Mike Monichetti, a local restaurant owner and critic of the pool, said the vote results show there is “overwhelming” opposition to the project among local residents and property owners.
Monichetti said the voters “were not in favor of the pool and higher taxes,” and that homeowners who live in Sea Isle seasonally have no interest in a recreation center pool.
“I hear people saying, ‘We don’t live here year-round. We come in the summer and we come for the beach and the ocean.’ Sea Isle has way more important issues to deal with,” said Monichetti, the owner of Mike’s Seafood & Dock Restaurant.
Monichetti said he believes that Sea Isle’s ongoing flooding problems and potential risks to public safety should be a much higher priority for the city than the proposed pool.
“Flooding is getting worse by the month and in a few years (if not addressed) you will not be able to drive on any streets going north to south, literally shutting down the town,” he said.
The results of the pool referendum and online survey are not binding on the city or its elected leaders, although Feeley emphasized that the outcome will be strongly considered by City Council.
The ballot referendum was restricted to Sea Isle’s full-time residents, but the online survey was opened up to all of the city’s property owners, about 7,200 in total.
In the survey, 79.3 percent of the respondents indicated they use their Sea Isle properties as seasonal homes or rental properties, while 20.7 percent said they are year-round residents.
For more than a year, Sea Isle officials have been discussing the possible redevelopment of the old school into a recreation center. The school, which closed in 2012 due to Sea Isle’s declining student population, occupies the entire block bordered by Park Road, Central Avenue, 45th Street and 46th Street.
One option that has been considered is to renovate the school building into a modest recreation center costing $2 million.
Feeley, though, said city officials prefer demolishing the school and redeveloping the site for a brand new recreation center. The main question is whether the center should include a pool or not, an issue that appears settled by the results of the referendum and survey.
Plans for a new recreation center are only in the preliminary stage, Feeley noted.
“Details are lacking on that. There are only rough ideas. Nothing has been fleshed out,” he said of the proposed project.