A look at Berkeley 2021

Berkeley Town Hall (Photo by Jason Allentoff)

BERKELEY – Most of the big problems in town this year have come from forces outside Berkeley. For example, COVID-19 and an economy dominated by online retail have left more marks on residents than any local issue.

Here we take a look at the biggest stories of 2021:

Proposed development

Although no shovel touched the ground, major plans have been announced for some locations on Route 9.

A warehouse, convenience store, gas station, solar array, recreation, and fast food restaurant are possible things that could replace the old Beachwood Mall on Route 9 in Bayville.

It’s very early in the planning stages, and things could change. The plan was just for the front 40 acres or so, facing Highway 9.

M&M Realty Partners and Lennar Corporation have formed a joint venture where they will redevelop the spot. Years ago they intended to create a mix of commercial, office / professional and residential buildings. They had planned big box locations, pad sites, and a downtown walking feel.

However, the economy is much different now, explained Ron Aulenbach, director of engineering, planning and development for Edgewood Properties.

A local resident emphasized the language of the redevelopment plan, calling it the “last mile” warehouse. This is the terminology used by Amazon. The retail giant wants warehouses in small towns in order to speed up deliveries.

The redevelopment plan opens the door for Amazon, but does not guarantee the company will enter, township affairs administrator John Camera said.

The iconic Blackbeard Cave has seen better days. (Photo courtesy of The Berkeley Times Reader)

Meanwhile, nearby, the driving range at iconic Blackbeard’s Cave will be demolished and turned into a public storage facility.

A developer who is about to buy the land, Marble Arch Homes of Lakewood, has asked the zoning board to build it.

Brian Murphy, engineer for the developer, said the property consists of three lots. One lot has frontage on Route 9 and 8.71 acres; this is where the storage area will be. A second lot of 12,617 acres with frontage on Route 9, will remain with the current owner. The final lot, 40.9 acres, has no frontage on Route 9, has wetlands and could be sold to the county as open space.

Part of the land is owned by the Johnson Rents company, he said. The Johnson family owned quite a bit of property, including the Beachwood Mall and the asphalt factory behind.

The driving range and parking lot would be demolished to make room for 91,260 square feet of self-storage and a small office. There would be 22 stalls at the back where people could park RVs and boats for storage. There would be no boat racks and no vehicle maintenance is allowed.

These are of course only plans. It remains to be seen if any of them materialize.

New Chief of Police

Kevin Santucci has taken the reins of the Township Police Department.

Former Chief Karin DiMichele retired after 10 years as a Chief and 26 years as an Officer at Berkeley.

Santucci was deputy chef under DiMichele and was promoted after his retirement. He joined the Berkeley Police Force 20 years ago.

Santucci began his law enforcement career in 1999 working summers with Seaside Park Police. In 2001 he started at Ocean Gate and a few months later he joined Berkeley. In 2008, he was assigned to the Special Operations Group of the Ocean County Attorney’s Office, assisting in narcotics and gang investigations.

Chef Kevin Santucci (Photo by Chris Lundy)

He was appointed a sergeant in 2009, worked in the patrol division, oversaw the maritime unit, and performed administrative duties and internal affairs investigations.

From 2013 to 2018, he was promoted lieutenant, then captain, then deputy chief. With each new title, there was more responsibility and leadership.

Route 9 repaved

Drivers breathed a sigh of relief as a section of Route 9 covering Berkeley was repaved.

In addition to the usual wear and tear that occurs on such an old road, Route 9 has also suffered numerous utility cuts. The end result was a bumpy driving experience.

The work was part of a $ 9.1 million improvement project that included lighting, construction of curbs and ramps in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, sidewalks, milling and paving of approximately eight miles from Route 9 between Jones Road, Lacey and Longboat Avenue, Beach Woods. In the future, traffic lights will be improved at 13 intersections.

Tragic loss

Keith Pinto was working on White Sands beach on August 30 when a sudden storm swept through the county. Pinto, 19, was killed by lightning and seven others were injured.

“Words cannot describe how many of us are feeling right now,” said Chase Vander Vliet, who organized the fundraiser on GoFundMe.com. “We lost a special guy tonight, someone who was so close and who meant so much to so many people.”

Keith Pinto (photo courtesy of GoFundMe)

Pinto was a graduate of Toms River High School North. He was known for his kindness and dedication to his loved ones. His death impacted many people who took to social media to share their feelings.

COVID, of course

No discussion of the year is complete without the defining story of 2021. Although the virus made landfall in 2020, internationally, the coronavirus dominated the 24-hour news cycle until the exhaustion.

Vaccines became widely available in 2021. Although “groundbreaking” cases of COVID-19 are occurring among those vaccinated, they are generally of lower intensity. Statistics showed that the unvaccinated were six times more likely to have to go to the hospital.

As the medical community learned more about the virus, state regulations took it into account. Many people expressed frustration that the guidelines and decrees seemed to change almost every week.

A very vocal minority of residents urged school officials to fight Trenton, but school officials said they risked state sanctions if they fail to comply not the rules.

While some events, like the Ocean County Fair were still canceled, other events like the Toms River fireworks display and the Halloween parade returned.

Protection against COVID lawsuits

Seniors’ communities have opened up their public buildings and allowed residents to use their amenities like swimming pools and meeting rooms. However, the protection from lawsuits against these communities was not to last forever.

State law was changed to compensate those who manage these buildings. They are called “common spaces” and include more than just communities of older people. However, in this area it is almost entirely the elderly who are affected.

The law afforded protection from legal action against the community and members of its boards of directors. Before this protection was granted, a visitor could theoretically sue the Board of Directors and directors individually if they believed they had contracted the coronavirus in the clubhouse, for example. This protection expired on January 1, 2022.

Marijuana law

As state voters approved a referendum in 2020 to legalize the cannabis industries, every city had to decide whether or not to allow them. Most have decided not to. Only South Toms River and Lakehurst have approved them.

Berkeley was one of the cities to ban them.

Small Pensions Commissioner

County Commissioner Gerry Little, 72, of Surf City, has announced he will not be running again. He was appointed in 2003 to fulfill the mandate of the late James Mancini. He has been in the seat ever since.

The title of “commissioner” was formerly called “free owner”. They oversee all county operations. During his announcement, many prominent Republicans stood up to replace his shoes. In the end, Little Egg Harbor Mayor Barbara Jo Crea was chosen by the local GOP and she won the seat in the November election.

Commissioner Vicari looks at Trenton

County commissioner Joseph Vicari threw his hat in the ring for the GOP as governor earlier this year before finally withdrawing his name.

He urged whoever gets the green light to faithfully serve the residents of Ocean County and not see them as a bunch of voices.

It wasn’t the first time Vicari had considered running for the job. At least one other time, he had tested the waters to assess his candidacy dating back at least 15 years.

GOP boss pardoned

President Donald Trump granted clemency to 143 people on his last day in office, including former Republican Ocean County President George Gilmore.

Gilmore, of Toms River, was convicted of failing to pay federal income tax for his employees and lying about a loan application. He was sentenced to one year and one day in prison. Gilmore was in the process of appealing his conviction for tax evasion and fraud.

George Gilmore (file photo)

According to the White House press release, he made important civic contributions during his career in New Jersey.

Gilmore’s law firm worked for a number of towns, which dissolved their contracts with him after his arrest. He also had to step down from the county Republicans’ presidency. Frank Holman took his place, but Gilmore would still be very influential in local politics.

Loans to Sandy Forgiven

It’s been nine years, but municipalities that still owed the federal government money after the cancellation of Super Storm Sandy.

That’s over $ 25 million in New Jersey alone. In Ocean County, there was $ 12 million in arrears on these community disaster loans.

The bill forgiving these amounts was championed by Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-6th), Congressman Andy Kim (D-3rd) and Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-12th). It was enacted as part of the Government Operations Bill by President Joe Biden.

Some cities have already started repaying these loans, but there are still many. The only way the cities could have paid it back would have been to increase taxes.

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