BERKELEY – During a de-annexation hearing, the township planner said that South Seaside Park is part of the tapestry of Berkeley Township, and that its uniqueness doesn’t mean that it should be separate from the rest of the town.
The Planning Board has been the site of a number of hearings over whether South Seaside Park should leave Berkeley Township, and presumably join the borough of Seaside Park. Seaside Park was once part of Berkeley as well, until it became its own municipality more than 100 years ago.
Previous hearings have debated more concrete, measurable qualities, like the number of recreation programs Berkeley runs on the barrier island. This hearing was more about whether South Seaside Park feels like the rest of Berkeley, and if the residents of the shore feel a connection with the mainland.
Township planner Stanley Slatechka, an employee of T&M Associates, gave a presentation about how the character of South Seaside Park is different from some of mainland Berkeley, but not so much that it should leave.
“Berkeley is made up of a mosaic of different kinds of communities,” Slatechka said. There are other shore areas, such as Good Luck Point. There are inland suburbs, like Pinewald. There are other areas that are not connected to Berkeley, such as Manitou Park, which is near South Toms River.
Some of these areas are identified by location, some by ethnicity. In fact, South Seaside Park was once nicknamed “Little Italy,” based on the character of the area, he said.
When it comes to geography, the fact that South Seaside Park is separated by many miles and the Barnegat Bay should not be a deciding factor in the area being separate from the rest of the township, he said. Toms River and Brick both have neighborhoods on the barrier island. He also named a few other municipalities throughout the state that have similar situations.
“Discontinuity is not unique in New Jersey,” he said.
“Areas that have cultural differences are stronger,” he said. Too much homogeneity is bad. “It’s relatively esoteric but it’s an important part of planning.”
Even Bayville is split into sections. “They are all parts of the fabric of Berkeley Township. Not one of them is any more important than the others.”
The Planning Board has created neighborhood plans for each area, he said.
Slatechka also named a few New Jersey municipalities that have different neighborhoods, based on a variety of factors, such as ethnicity, culture, and socioeconomic status. However, Berkeley defines itself as an amalgam of all of these areas.
“Neighborhood identity should therefore not be the basis for de-annexation because lots of towns have various portions,” he said.
He outlined three statutory requirements for de-annexation. The petitioners (South Seaside Park) have to show that Berkeley’s refusal to let them leave is arbitrary. Secondly, they must show that refusing to let them leave causes them some kind of harm, economically or otherwise. Thirdly, they have to show that by leaving, they won’t cause substantial harm to the rest of Berkeley Township.
Mainland Berkeley residents have stated for years that losing the shore ratables of South Seaside Park would raise their taxes. However, the exact amount has been argued. Meanwhile, South Seaside Park residents have said they pay a disproportionately high amount of taxes for the services they receive.
Slatechka also did some number crunching, citing the 2010 census and the 2015 American Community Survey.
South Seaside Park has 2 percent of the total Berkeley residents. They are among the most educated in town, with 42.3 percent having a college degree or greater. The median income is $52,639, compared to the average for the township, which is $43,942. The county’s average is $61,000. It has a very unusual 0 percent unemployment rate, compared to 11.5 percent, which is the town’s average.
The loss of South Seaside Park would result in the loss of 2 percent of Berkeley’s population, made up of well-educated and well-employed individuals, he said. It would also make Berkeley lose 6.9 percent of its housing stock.
He compared South Seaside Park to the New York metropolitan area. It’s a great location, with nearby amenities, but it costs more to live there, and the homes are smaller.
“There is no other place in Berkeley Township where you can live that close to the ocean,” he said.
The hearing was one of many that have been heard and will continue to be heard at the Planning Board. Less than 20 people attended this meeting.