POINT PLEASANT BEACH — The borough council on Tuesday moved forward with a plan to acquire the Amethyst’s Beach Motel and surrounding property, introducing an ordinance to obtain the site either through negotiation or by eminent domain.
The action was met with sharp criticism by hotel owner John Fernicola, who told council members, “Eminent domain is a sword we should never use. Not necessary. I was totally willing to negotiate and talk with you, speak with you and resolve issues with you, but you never gave me the goddamn opportunity.”
According to Mayor Paul Kanitra, the borough plans to tear down the structure and create a new parking lot to expand summer tourist parking close to the beach.
The motel lot site at 202 Arnold Ave. is adjacent to borough parking lots close to the beach and boardwalk. Officials said parking is needed in the borough, especially in the busy summer months.
Councilmembers Doug Vitale, Arlene Testa and Caryn Byrnes voted to introduce the ordinance, while members Andy Cortes and Bob Santanello voted against the plan.
Mr. Fernicola, along with family and friends, spoke against the condemnation during Tuesday’s meeting.
“I do not want eminent domain exercised against anyone in Point Pleasant Beach at any time. It is not appropriate,” he said. “I will talk with you; I will negotiate with you, but I will not stand for eminent domain nor should anyone in Point Pleasant Beach.”
Borough officials have worked to get an appraisal on the property since November, but said those talks had stalled and an eminent domain notice was sent to Mr. Fernicola on Jan. 22.
Although officials have said the reason for the acquisition is parking, as stated in the ordinance, discussion in the council’s executive sessions also referred to the number of police calls and attention at the motel this year, according to Councilman Santanello.
Police records show 253 incidents at the motel since Feb. 14, 2019.
Amber Fernicola, Mr. Fernicola’s daughter, said these calls were due to state COVID regulations that did not allow owners to evict renters.
“During this past year, we were under some ridiculous guidances by the governor,” said Ms. Fernicola. “We had people there that should have been not staying there, who weren’t paying, destroying the rooms and harassing the employees and it led to major calls.”
“There was a lot of stuff going on in the motels in Point Beach, all over in Seaside, in Point, wherever,” she continued. “The fact that [ownership] gets penalized for calling the police on situations that are not lawful is crazy to me. Don’t we want people to be taking care of their properties and their businesses?”
Paul Fernicola, a condemnation attorney representing owners of the Amethyst’s Beach Motel and who is of no relation to his clients, was cut off from speaking at the virtual meeting by the council after posing questions to members, after being advised not to respond by borough attorney Kevin Riordan.
Pointedly addressing council members, Paul Fernicola said, “You made statements that the property is well known to the police, you made comments about that the police will have more time to tackle other issues in town, clearly by those statements it appears that parking is secondary and you have reasons other than parking to take this property.”
Resident Dan Friendly called the borough’s action a dangerous precedent.
“I am extraordinarily concerned that a Republican council that we elected is even thinking of or discussing doing the most un-American, un-Republican, un-conservative thing known to man,” said Mr. Friendly. “You can’t just go and take somebody’s property of 50 or 60 years because there is a problem at the property. That is their land.”
Mr. Riordan said the council stands by its position.
“The governing body is anxious to buy the property so that there is more parking in a summer in which we’re going to get slammed,” he said.
Resident Dave Betten said he agrees that the borough needs to address parking issues.
“If we had better parking and we could direct people into those areas and then they would have more amenities to them available, I think that wouldn’t be the worst idea,” said Mr. Betten.
“Now, I hate the idea of taking somebody’s property but I also understand why eminent domain is available and if that is going to make this town better for me where I live and where I walk, then I’m for it and I’m sorry to the people that it affects,” he said.
“I just think that anything that can make it better for the actual residents of this town and how they feel their quality of life is is a good thing.”
A public hearing on the ordinance is set for the next council meeting April 20.
This is an excerpt of the print article. For more on this story, read The Ocean Star—on newsstands Friday or online in our e-Edition.
Subscribe today! If you're not already an annual subscriber to The Ocean Star, get your subscription today! For just $34 per year, you will receive local mail delivery weekly, with pages and pages of local news and online access to our e-edition on Starnewsgroup.com.