MARGATE – Members of the Margate Boardwalk Committee will be presenting the Board of Commissioners with their investigative report, “A Margate Boardwalk for the 21st Century,” at the commission meeting Thursday, Aug. 15.
According to Boardwalk Committee President Glenn Klotz, the presentation is not an agenda item, but committee members will present commissioners with a copy of their findings during the public portion of the meeting, along with a petition containing more than 600 signatures.
“We are going to put our report on the public record,” Klotz said. “We also have a petition signed by more than 600 citizens asking the commissioners to put a question up for a vote in a referendum and conduct a poll of all taxpayers.”
Klotz said the committee is taking a “sequential” approach toward getting an estimated $24 million boardwalk built along the landward side of the engineered sand dune that was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the NJ Dept. of Environmental Protection.
“We are not asking the commission to approve a boardwalk. We are asking them to let the public have a say first,” he said in a telephone interview early Wednesday morning.
Members of the Boardwalk Committee will speak separately for their allotted 3 minutes during the public portion of the meeting, he said. The committee is asking the public to attend.
Approximately 620 people who are property owners or registered voters signed the petition asking for a referendum because they want a say in the decision, either for or against, he said.
Klotz said the Margate’s form of government does not allow citizens to petition to get a question put on the ballot. Only the commissioners can do that, Klotz said.
“What we are saying is that the residents of Margate would like them to consider putting it on the ballot,” he said.
Most importantly, the committee is also asking the commission to take a poll of non-voting property owners to determine if they support it, Klotz said.
“We would like to do this process sequentially,” and if at any point the public disapproves it, the idea will be put to rest, he said.
Although the commissioners have the ability to decide to build a boardwalk without hearing from the taxpayers and voters, Klotz’s group is endorsing a sequential approach – first, hear from taxpayers if they think it’s a good idea, then registered voters can have their say in a binding or non-binding referendum. If they agree, the commissioners could then take action and submit an application for development from the DEP, he said.
If at any point along the way, the public decides against it, “then, that’s the end of it,” Klotz said.
But before the commissioners take any action toward referendum, they should first poll or survey property owners. The poll or survey could be done by a third-party organization, such at Stockton or Rutgers University or the Pew Research Center, he said.
“There are private and public polling places out there that can do it,” Klotz said. “If the taxpayers say yes, they can move to a binding or non-binding referendum.”
The poll or survey would cover more people and allow the question to get the approval or disapproval of a “super-majority,” Klotz said.
“Many property owners don’t vote in Margate, but they pay taxes so to be fair and ethical, they should have a say,” he said.
Klotz said building a boardwalk on the beach would be the biggest public project since the city built the original boardwalk that washed away in the 1944 Nor’easter, he said. He said the city has documentation confirming it owns an easement across the beach where the boardwalk once stood, but with shifting sands and dune engineering, where that easement is actually located is unknown, he said.
According to the Atlantic County Clerk’s Office, state regulations require the city to inform the county clerk of a ballot question at least 81 days before an election. Aug. 16 is this year’s deadline for submission of non-binding municipal public questions for printing on the general election ballot.
“They may not decide to put it on the ballot for this November, but they may decide a poll or survey makes sense,” Klotz said.
“If the survey comes back negative, then that’s the end of it,” Klotz said. “We have to respect the taxpayers’ opinion.”
If it gets to referendum and the voters say no, “Well then, that’s the end of it,” he said.
“But if they say yes, the city can send an application to the DEP. If the DEP says no, then we back away.”
Additional challenges could come from beachfront property owners who have riparian rights to the high tide line, but the city could invoke its powers of eminent domain to get it built, just like the state did with the dune project, Klotz said.
He agreed that the easiest part of the whole concept is actually building the boardwalk.
“That won’t take very long – about three months,” he said. “It’s everything else that is tortuous.”
Nevertheless, what he doesn’t want to see is the boardwalk “shoved down the throats of taxpayers.”
“The dunes traumatized the community. The public said no twice, and they still built the dune. We don’t want that to happen with the boardwalk,” he said.
The Army Corps’ dunes design template essentially “industrialized” the beach, he said.
“The boardwalk would complete that design, like it is in Ventnor.”
The Board of Commissioners work session starts at 4 p.m.; the regular meeting follows.