DEP Puts The Brakes On Proposed Traders Cove Restaurant

(Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

BRICK – Plans for a privately-run restaurant to be built at Traders Cove Marina & Park has hit roadblocks since the Department of Environmental Protection has reviewed the proposed agreement between the Township and Chefs International.

In a letter obtained by The Brick Times from the DEP to Township Business Administrator JoAnne Bergin, the Green Acres Program – state money of which several million was used for the acquisition and development of Traders Cove Marina & Park – has identified four areas that would prohibit the existence of a private restaurant there.

The first area is the lease term. In the lease agreement between the township and Chefs International, the restaurant would lease the land for 24 years, but Green Acres rules limit the initial term of any lease to no more than five years “unless the township can provide sufficient justification, based on capital expense or otherwise, to establish good cause” to exceed the five-year rule.

The second area is compensation. The lease agreement would charge Chefs International $75,000 a year with a 2 percent escalator each year, but Green Acres rules require that the lease provide “sufficient compensation” in relation to market value.

The DEP recommends that the township revise the compensation structure in the proposed lease to include a percentage of revenue from Chefs International. They have also asked the township for an analysis that shows how winter boat storage revenues would be affected if the lease is executed.

The third area addresses public access. While the township has stated that Chefs International is aware that the area covered by the lease, including restroom facilities, would be open to the public, the DEP “did not find such language in our review of the proposed lease,” they wrote in the letter.

They have asked the township to include language in the lease that formalizes public access to the lease area.

The fourth area is shared parking. The DEP expressed concerns about parking capacity during times of peak park usage during the summer months and during scheduled concerts, events or festivals while sharing limited parking spaces with restaurant patrons.

The four-page letter also lists 10 Required Revisions to the proposed lease, that include how rental payments would be used by the township; insurance requirements; prohibiting the restaurant from expanding its structures over the course of the lease, and more.

The DEP has asked the township for “additional language in the lease” specifically describing how the proposed restaurant use “will promote the use of funded parkland for recreation and conservation purposes,” and that the restaurant would be “a park amenity and not a stand-alone destination.”

Once the DEP receives the additional information and required requested revisions, they would conduct a final review of the proposed lease for compliance with Green Acres rules.

If all the issues could be resolved, the proposed operation may require outside bond counsel review since the restaurant is proposed to occur on Green Acres bond-funded parkland, they wrote.

Britta Wenzel, Executive Director of Save Barnegat Bay – an environmental organization founded in 1971 to save the land that later became Traders Cove and Marina from development, and who has been in opposition to the restaurant since it was proposed – said the restaurant proposal may not “pass the muster” for Green Acres bond counsel.

“We would have preferred a denial based on the fact that it is a diversion of public land, but that being said, we are glad that NJDEP is raising the bar and is requiring Brick Township to prove that it’s not a diversion,” she said.

“It’s putting the burden on Brick taxpayers, trying to push through a restaurant that violates state law,” Wenzel said.

Asked if he believes Brick could meet the DEP requirements outlined in the letter and if a restaurant at Traders Cove is still viable, Mayor John G. Ducey said he believes it is.

“The township has been and is still working on getting Green Acres approval for a proposed outside restaurant,” Ducey wrote in an email. “We will continue working towards that goal.”

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Judy moved to Ocean County from New York City in 1988, and began her second career as a feature and news reporter in the mid-1990's. She has worked for Micromedia Publications since 2008, primarily reporting for The Toms River Times and The Brick Times. Judy has also worked for The Leader Review in Point Pleasant Beach, The Brick Communicator and The Asbury Park Press. Reach Judy by e-mail at [email protected]