By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
MARGATE – The Margate Boardwalk Committee, which is advocating to build a border-to-border boardwalk behind the engineered protective dune, has forwarded wording to the city for a non-binding referendum to be included on the November General Election ballot.
The wording asks voters if the city shall investigate and determine the feasibility and costs of building a non-commercial boardwalk. The cost of building a boardwalk has been estimated to cost about $25 million.
Committee Chairman Gregg Lichtenstein presented a letter containing the wording to the Board of Commissioners, city attorney, city administrator and the city clerk on Tuesday, June 17.
“Although we know that any non-binding referendum will not deliver a boardwalk in the present moment, we sincerely believe if approved by the voters this fall, it would be a big step forward in that direction,” Boardwalk Committee Director Glenn Klotz said.
The deadline to get a public question to the Atlantic County Clerk for printing on the ballot is 81 days before the election, Aug. 14. If the city adopts wording for a referendum, it must be forwarded to the county clerk by Aug. 28, according to a timeline published by the state.
Although Gov. Phil Murphy postponed the primary election to July 7 and deemed it would be by mail-in ballot only, the state has not issued any changes to the timeline for the General Election on Tuesday, Nov. 3.
“We basically designed the wording off a referendum for the beach project,” Klotz said. “We took the wording from there and used it as a model for what we thought would be the appropriate wording.”
Klotz said if the voters like the idea and the city investigates it further, a second referendum to approve funding the project may become necessary next year.
“We decided to be conservative and just gauge the sentiment of the voters so we can continue on this path next year when things are sane, we have an economy again and can return to some kind of normal,” Klotz said.
The sample resolution includes an interpretive statement that reads:
“This question, if approved by the voters, will give direction to the City of Margate Board of Commissioners to further investigate and determine the feasibility and costs of Margate constructing such a boardwalk…”
Klotz said the committee is confident it can convince voters “to rally to our cause this fall in a spirit of hope for the future after this arduous and difficult time.”
He said the boardwalk would be a great “upgrade” to the community.
“We feel that all things considered, such an improvement is needed now more than ever,” he said in the statement. “Our local economy has been deeply damaged by the pandemic and a new boardwalk in Margate will, we believe, galvanize and boost its recovery in the coming years.”
If voters approve the suggested referendum, the city is not bound to actually build the boardwalk.
The commissioners Thursday, March 5 agreed to hold a non-binding referendum in November to gauge the community’s interest in building a boardwalk. All three commissioners agreed to hold the referendum and let the voters decide the issue.
“It’s too big of an issue to not do that,” said Mayor Michael Becker, who put the discussion item on the March 5 agenda.
Commissioner John Amodeo said holding a referendum would be “the prudent thing to do.”
And Commissioner Maury Blumberg said he thought it was “a good idea.”
They agreed to have Solicitor John Scott Abbott investigate the issue; however, there has been no public discussion about the wording the city prefers.
The issue of building a boardwalk surfaced two years ago after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the NJ Department of Environmental Protection built a 1.5 mile long protective sand dune across the beach that degraded views and access to the ocean, and created a “dead zone” between the back of the dune and the existing citywide bulkhead.
Proponents said a boardwalk would solve access issues for the elderly and infirm, provide an additional recreational amenity for walkers, joggers and cyclists, and improve safety for beachfront homeowners, according to the committee’s report, “A Margate Boardwalk for the 21st Century.”
Becker said if the voters approve a referendum, “we’ll have to see” if it ever gets built.
“We’ll decide when we see the numbers,” he said.
The Board of Commissioners is scheduled to hold its next work session and regular meeting in person at Historic City Hall, 1 S. Washington Ave., starting at 4 p.m. Thursday, June 18.
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