The Atlantic Highlands Planning Board took more than three hours to conduct all its business last night, including putting off the hearing on the Starbuck’s application until Feb. 3. But it was impressive to see how organized they are, how deeply interested each member appears to be, and how well Chairman Doug Pepe runs a meeting.
On the other hand, it seems they may have given more attention, time, and demands or requests for evidence to a simple request to allow a sunroom on a house on Ocean Blvd. which even brought neighbors out to support it than they gave to the universally acclaimed ugly new apartment going on at the entrance to the borough last year.
There was something else that was clearly evident during this meeting as well. Local professional businesswoman Megan O’Donnell has a lot of class and clearly won over an entire board..well, maybe with one exception…with that brand new First Avenue business devoted to children, Little Chicken Kids, LLC. Ms. O’Donnell has space in her shop at 35 First Avenue, which is devoted to all things kids, from clothes and books to toys and games.
Wanting to be sure she’s doing everything right, she retained Attorney Henry Wolff to plead her cause and present why using a room for crafts and games the kids can play while their parents are shopping is simply an accessory use of space, or as one board member put it, kind of like having an author do a book signing in a place that sells books.
Sure she has tables and chairs for up to two dozen kids in the room, she explained, sure, she loves it when a local author wants to write children’s story to kids gathered there. Sure she supplies paper and paints and craft stuff so kids can try out some of the craft material offered for sale. And yes, especially during those horrific times when kids couldn’t socialize at all, she wants parents and kids to have the opportunity to socialize while shopping or talking about the latest gadgets or authors that intrigue the little ones.
Mr. Wolffe covered all the legal aspects of why she had to appear before the board to seek a declaration as an accessory use, but it was Ms O’Donnell herself who showed her own pride in what she has accomplished and what she plans for the future for this very unique First Avenue business. In the end, when all the talk was done, one member abstained from voting and the rest heaped praise and approval on the Little Chicken, noting it is an asset to First Avenue business, a unique concept, something parents..and several on the planning board counted themselves among that group, who love and have visited the shop, and as another planner said, likening it “like gold for our town,” it’s such a great idea. Members seemed to want to be assured Ms O’Donnell got all the necessary permits to conduct her business in the manner she wants, and she in turn made it abundantly clear she wanted to do the right thing for the town, the business and parents and children everywhere. It was a great display of working hard for the good of the town, though to my way of thinking, it was really obvious minutes into Mr. Wolffe’s introduction and explanation everything was in fine order.
Then there was the over long drawn out hearing of the application to simply add a sunporch to a well established and well cared for home on Ocean Blvd., one that has been in the same family for at least two generations, a family, by the way, that has long since shown its dedication to keeping Atlantic Highlands the wonderful place it is. Here again, even the neighbors turned out to praise the homeowner and endorse the application. Loved the Bayside Drive environmentalist who lives below the property who reiterated the expert who said any ground disturbance would not cause any environmental problems either there or on Bayside drive. But here again, so much time was taken to prove the two family house pre-dated the ordinance that said they weren’t allowed in the area, and hence is not bound by it. I suppose all that is necessary to make sure there are complete records of everything, but it seems like a bit of overkill for a project even the neighbors came out to support.
On the other hand, yes, the Satarbucks application was put off until Feb.. 3, but that was only because the board attorney wants to be sure everything is in order for this major application for a borough that has never had a Starbuck’s before. The hearing will be virtual, he said, so proper advertisement of that fact is necessary... Certainly not a bad idea.
And apparently, even a bit more careful than the governing body. The Planning Board, if you remember, are the ones who held their reorganization meeting only in person earlier this month, when everybody else was on ZOOM; they even had to postpone business because they were not holding it on zoom.
On the borough’s website, they spell out, carefully, completely, and very specifically, how to get on a zoom meeting, how to talk during the public portion, and alternatives if you for some reason can’t access the meeting by ZOOM. They act like they even care and encourage the public to attend their meetings and learn what’s going on.
Somehow, that’s not the same vibes the governing body is putting out.
Time will tell what happens when people for whatever reason, or Governor’s mandate for yet another virus, are prevented or unable to crowd into borough hall to learn what’s happening with their tax dollars, their recreation, and their government