2013-05-23 / Front Page

Students share vision for future of Sea Bright

BY NICOLE ANTONUCCI
Staff Writer


A parking structure, retail spaces, community center and hotel on the site of the municipal parking lots east of Ocean Avenue are one option for improving the downtown district. 
COURTESY OF PROFESSOR CARLOS RODRIGUEZ A parking structure, retail spaces, community center and hotel on the site of the municipal parking lots east of Ocean Avenue are one option for improving the downtown district. COURTESY OF PROFESSOR CARLOS RODRIGUEZ Graduate students from Rutgers University helped the borough look to the future last week, envisioning a town recovered from Sandy with elevated homes, a municipal complex and revitalized downtown.

In a presentation at the May 16 Borough Council workshop meeting, students in a studio class at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University presented a set of conceptual plans and ideas on how the town could rebuild and grow in a sustainable manner.

“We pieced together an understanding of this community and what it’s going through,” Professor Carlos Rodriguez said. “What we are offering you today are some ideas about how planning might help you to move forward to heal the wounds, fix the problems and make this a better, more vibrant place.”


Another option proposes parking below a boardwalk, which would be lined with beachfront retail and a hotel and civic building. Another option proposes parking below a boardwalk, which would be lined with beachfront retail and a hotel and civic building. The plans are the result of a four-month project, which began after Mayor Dina Long reached out to Rutgers after the storm.

“In the early days right after the storm, we came across the Rutgers Climate Change Study that was produced a couple of years ago that pretty much predicted everything that happened here in Sea Bright and Highlands,” Long said.

“I called the Bloustein School and said that everything they had predicted had come true — now what? They committed with us on our planning and recovery.”

The project began with an initial site visit to Sea Bright to meet with the governing body and get an idea of the layout of the town and the damage from the superstorm, Rodriguez said.


Students from Rutgers’ Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy present conceptual plans for the future of Sea Bright during the May 16 Borough Council workshop. 
NICOLE ANTONUCCI Students from Rutgers’ Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy present conceptual plans for the future of Sea Bright during the May 16 Borough Council workshop. NICOLE ANTONUCCI Since then, the graduate students have gathered information from previous planning documents, researched the history of the borough and surveyed residents to gain insight on the community’s priorities.

During the presentation, they addressed the impacts and new planning challenges resulting from the Oct. 29 storm, such as elevating homes in compliance with FEMA’s new flood elevations.

The studio class also addressed previous planning deficiencies in the borough — the lack of open space, the lack of pedestrian and bicycle pathways, environmental and renewable energy — and provided recommendations for the immediate, short- and long-term.

“The mission for our planning effort is to assist you in defending against future storm and flood damage, strengthening the economic viability of the community and rebuilding for a safe and sustainable future,” graduate student Amy Winter said.

The strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to the town were included.

According to student Greer Reinalda, the borough has many opportunities to grow its economy by providing different land uses and sectors for employment, increase tourism by showcasing the town’s natural resources, and creating open and public spaces in areas that are underutilized.

Concept plans focused on four areas in need of improvement: Ocean Avenue north of downtown, the Rumson-Sea Bright Bridge, the downtown business district and the marina district.

Student Chris Kok explained that the northern section of downtown is underutilized and would benefit from additional parking as well as a bus transit area for commuters.

The sea wall along the beachfront, which was described as a physical barrier, would be constructed with a bike path running along the top. “This is a great opportunity to put a bike path and pedestrian path that could connect up to Sandy Hook,” Kok said. “In this possibility, you could have a bike rental shop downtown. People could come, park, rent a bike and bike up to Sandy Hook, enjoy the breeze, see New York City — and they are not driving on the road.”

Plans for the new Rumson-Sea Bright Bridge, which will be constructed by Monmouth County, were deemed a potential pedestrian hazard by the students who claimed that the new design allowed traffic to come over the bridge at a speed of up to 45 miles per hour.

The plans call for a traffic circle at the intersection of the bridge and Ocean Avenue to slow down traffic and provide a focal point.

“At the center of the traffic circle, you could put in a fountain or a monument,” Kok said. “This would be a grand entrance into downtown Sea Bright. People would get to the traffic circle and know that they had arrived.”

The downtown area would be designed according to Sea Bright’s 2007 Smart Growth Plan, which calls for preserving the identity and image of Sea Bright while creating a better streetscape along Ocean Avenue with adequate parking and pedestrian space, he said.

“We want to preserve the parking, but we want to complete the streetscape at the same time,” he said. “We want to create a public space and grow the economy and community of Sea Bright.”

Plans would include transforming Ocean Avenue into a boulevard that would create a “linear park through the downtown.”

The large parking lot area, which dominates the eastern side of the downtown, would be developed in one of three ways.

The first option includes placing solar canopies in the parking lot to shield cars from the sun while generating energy for the borough, consolidation of municipal services, providing a boardwalk and public changing rooms, and creating a tented area for seasonal vendors.

The second option focuses on mitigation and would include structured parking areas surrounded by retail, a central civic building, a beachfront retail and hotel, a boardwalk and public changing rooms.

The third option would include structured parking beneath the boardwalk with the seawall incorporated into the parking structure. Beachfront retail and hotel, office space and a centralized civic building would be along the boardwalk.

“This is a giant building that is not in the scale of Sea Bright,” he said. “It would generate revenue, complete public space and streetscape, increase parking — and it would help fill in the seawall to protect the town.”

The final area of focus was the marina district that would be built with multilevel boat parking surrounded by retail and restaurants. A walkway would be created along the river and would link to the downtown.

“The future is coming, but it’s one we could share,” Kok said. “We have to get together and figure out a common vision for the future of Sea Bright.”

Members of the governing body and residents in attendance at the meeting were impressed, but had a few questions.

“What is the time frame for a project like this?” one resident asked.

Reinalda explained that the plans are broken into immediate, short-term and long-term options, with the short-term plans taking shape over two to four years, and the longterm beginning after that.

“It’s a gradual process, and right now the economic base can’t support huge development,” she said. “The changes in the immediate and short-term will give the opportunity to build to its full potential.”

Another resident explained that in the southern end of town, most of the residents frequent the beach in Monmouth Beach.

“Once you get into town, there is nowhere for you to turn around,” the resident said. “How do your plans address that?”

Kok replied that four-way stops along the boulevard and the proposed traffic circle would allow automobiles to turn around.

A resident asked what features in Sea Bright would help businesses currently struggling to stay open.

“I am just wondering what you saw as something that we could use to attract people here, to leverage from the things that we already have, [as] opposed to creating some other place,” the resident asked.

Reinalda replied that Sea Bright provides views of the sunrise and sunset, but lacks outdoor areas for viewing.

“To me, that is more marketable than any other aspect,” she said.

“People pass through Sea Bright to go to Pier Village to sit on the beach, to eat dinner.”

Another resident said that she liked the idea of the boardwalk and explained that the boardwalk would be an attractive feature for the town.

“If you think about every other seaside town that attracts people, the one thing they have in common is a boardwalk. People like to walk around the beach 365- days a year. The boardwalk is what pulls people to the seaside towns.”

The studio class recommendations are contained in a 150-page report that will be presented to the council.

Long said she was impressed by the plans and thanked the students for their efforts.

“On the behalf of my community, we thank you so much for your time and your work,” Long said. “Certainly without question, your scholarship and your professionalism in creating this presentation should be commended.”

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