Dear Mr. Denholtz,
On behalf of the following organizations, we write to respectfully request your withdrawal of the subdivision application for the McConnell Property in Atlantic Highlands, NJ.
This property has long been a focal point of environmentalists due not only to the toxic legacy of its former use as an oil transfer station, but also due to its great potential to serve the wider community as an open space access point to Sandy Hook Bay. Although the remaining benzene groundwater contamination may pose a risk to potential homeowners, the intent of this letter is to emphasize the importance of public access to the waterfront and the critical need for natural buffers to mitigate risks associated with water quality, coastal flooding, storm surge, and sea level rise in New Jersey’s Coastal Zone.
As you know, this property is one of the few remaining vacant parcels of land on the Bay and it has long been envisioned as a park with a beautiful natural waterfront setting for passive and recreational use by the public. Parks provide well-known public health benefits , and the annual report by the Trust for Public Land provides helpful analysis of parks in urban communities.. Further, parks drive economic benefit for local homeowners and nearby communities. By comparison, residential development drains public coffers given that the cost of services exceeds the increase in tax ratables.
Perhaps our greatest concern about this project relates to the risks associated with future storms, sea level rise, and water quality. Six years after Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on the Jersey Shore, now is the time to mitigate future risk, not to elevate it with new construction along the shore. A substantial portion of the property is located in the FEMA designated V and AE flood zones, high risk areas that face obvious threat from storm surge and flooding. All of the lots on the waterside of the new road are in this zone. These areas should be maintained in a natural state, accommodating a living shoreline to not only protect current residential properties but also to enhance habitat for species that are increasingly at risk due to habitat loss. Creating new impervious surface and building up the areas in the flood zone to accommodate new housing runs counter to the priorities of the State of New Jersey in a post Sandy environment.
In fact, the Coastal Resilience Plan announced by Governor Murphy’s administration highlights the need to reduce flooding risk and adapt to climate change. This planning process is well underway and in some respects this project is a good case study on how to mitigate risk and enhance resilience. Unfortunately, as the project is presented today, these concerns are not adequately addressed.
Finally, it is essential that public access not be inhibited on the property. The New Jersey Public Trust Doctrine provides a strong foundation for public advocates who want to access beach areas both on the ocean and on the Bay. Current plans fall far short of what is being requested by the community and what is required by law.
Given all of these concerns, and given your company’s commitment to take “the future of our natural land and water into serious consideration,” (Facebook 3/22/18) the best way forward is to withdraw the “Aegean” application for consideration by the Atlantic Highlands Planning and Zoning Board. This would send a strong message to the broader community that climate change and coastal resiliency are priorities for your company and for our state.
We welcome the opportunity to discuss this with you further.
Tim Dillingham, Executive Director, American Littoral Society
Joe Reynolds, Co-Chair, Bayshore Regional Watershed Council
Cindy Zipf, Executive Director, Clean Ocean Action
Doug O’Malley, Executive Director, Environment New Jersey
Bill Kastning, Executive Director, Monmouth Conservation Foundation
Robert OConnor, President, Neighbors for Waterfront Preservation
Jeff Tittel, Director, New Jersey Sierra Club
Greg Remaud, Baykeeper and Chief Executive Officer, NY/NJ Baykeeper
Andrew L. Chambarry, Chair, Surfrider Foundation, Jersey Shore Chapter