Council‌ ‌candidates‌ ‌debate‌ ‌tourism,‌ ‌ development‌ ‌and‌ ‌taxes‌

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BELMAR — The three candidates running for a seat on the borough council debated each other in a virtual forum last week, setting clear differences in key issues in the borough.

Council President Thomas Brennan, a Democrat, sparred with Republican Jodi Kinney and independent candidate Gerald Buccafusco on issues that included transparency, development throughout the borough and climate change.

The forum, which was hosted by the League of Women Voters of Southern Monmouth County and the Belmar Braver Angels, a bipartisan group of residents advocating for civil public discourse, took place on Wednesday night via Zoom.

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The first question posed by residents asked candidates to name what they believe is the most pressing issue facing Belmar.

Mr. Buccafusco started the forum by saying the key issue facing the borough that needs to be addressed is the “lack of transparency of both the administration and the council.” Using the example of budget presentations and redevelopment agreements that have “little to no input from the public,” he said he would try to “bring forth as much information as I can once I get on the council.”

Ms. Kinney and Mr. Brennan said that the most pressing issue facing the borough is COVID-19.

“We have to balance keeping our businesses open and our residents safe, especially if this goes into the summer again, with another influx of summer visitors,” Ms. Kinney said, adding she would work with the borough’s tourism and social media director to bring shoppers into Belmar to keep the local economy afloat.

Mr. Brennan, who also said that the pandemic is the most pressing issue in Belmar, stated that is why he pushed for a cap on daily beach badge sales over the summer and “if we need to, we are going to start the summer with that again.

“Many residents were frustrated with visitors’ behavior and I heard from a lot of people about particular group residents,” he added, continuing that he is happy that the borough council introduced an ordinance to toughen penalties on summer rental properties that violate borough ordinances.

On new development, the incumbent, Mr. Brennan, said that the borough should strive for smart growth with more residential spaces for seniors and young adults, which would also help local businesses.

“Whatever development happens, it has to fit, it has to comply with our Master Plan and it has to comply with our Seaport [Redevelopment Plan],” he said.

Ms. Kinney said that property owners “had the right to develop their own property” and that the borough’s zoning ordinances “help control the type of redevelopment that is allowed.

“I believe redevelopment is important because it’s important to phase out some of these older buildings and bring in new businesses that don’t want to rent in old buildings,” she said. “Especially now with COVID, businesses want to have windows and they want to have ventilation. … Redevelopment is essential to attracting new businesses, but it should be within reason.”

Mr. Buccafusco took aim at the borough’s Master Plan and Seaport Redevelopment Plan, which set standards for construction in the downtown area, saying that if residents want to see smaller buildings then “we have to modify those two areas.” He criticized a redevelopment plan to build a four-story building on the former Bank of America property at the corner of Ninth Avenue and Main Street, saying that Belmar needed to decide whether it wanted to be “a small town or a small city.”

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