POINT PLEASANT BEACH — Amethyst Beach Motel owner John Fernicola is fighting back after officials voted March 16 to move to take the motel for additional parking in the borough, either through negotiation or by eminent domain.
The 40-room motel lot site at 202 Arnold Ave. is adjacent to the borough’s Little Silver Lake parking lot close to the beach and boardwalk. The Fernicola family has owned the site since 1962.
According to the ordinance, the borough plans to tear down the structure and create a new parking lot to expand summer tourist parking close to the beach.
Mr. Fernicola believes the borough is moving on the site as a penalty for police calls, and that his motel has been misrepresented by borough officials.
Police records show 253 incidents at the motel since Feb. 14, 2019. According to Mr. Fernicola, this does not accurately represent the history of his motel.
“We were characterized as historically a public nuisance,” said Mr. Fernicola.
According to police records obtained by Mr. Fernicola, the motel had only 13 police calls in 2015, 15 in 2016, 19 in 2017 and 14 in 2018.
“Statements were made that we have always been a problematic facility for the borough of Point Pleasant Beach,” said Mr. Fernicola, “these numbers don’t bear that out.”
Mr. Fernicola accounts the motel’s steep rise in calls directly to COVID-19 and eviction rules set in place by the state.
“There were an inordinate amount of calls which we accept responsibility for, now we didn’t make them, but the people who were locked down in our facility did,” said Mr. Fernicola. “The hotel [had] roughly 25 rooms of people who should have never been there after April.”
Mr. Fernicola also charged problems starting in 2019 to “bad actors” and poor management while he was in Florida under treatment for health issues.
He said he tried to clean up the motel in 2020, but due to restrictions, was unable to remove renters from his facility.
“We have an anomaly,” said Mr. Fernicola. “This is not consistent, this is not who we are. What happened under COVID and what I’m trying to show is that we’re being judged by an unprecedented event in our times.”
“I needed these statistics to exonerate my hotel as being characterized as a hotel that’s always had problems,” said Mr. Fernicola, “it’s just not true.”
The borough plans to acquire the hotel for parking and has led with the argument that parking is needed in Point Pleasant Beach.
“The whole idea that this is about police calls is nonsense,” said Borough Attorney Kevin Riordan, “it’s not what this is about, it’s about parking.”
“The statistics are what they are and it might be about COVID, but I don’t know; the borough really doesn’t know what the police calls are about, that’s why from the borough’s point of view, it’s not about the police calls,” said Mr. Riordan.
Mr. Fernicola believes parking is not what Point Pleasant Beach residents are concerned about.
“The residents don’t want any more day-trippers,” said Mr. Fernicola. “I’m confused as to why the mayor thinks that increasing the number of day-tripper parking spaces is consistent with what the residents want.”
He said his motel even currently offers overflow commercial parking during busy summer days.
Overall, Mr. Fernicola said he is against the use of eminent domain.
“I don’t even understand how anybody can agree with eminent domain being used at all, at any time, against anyone,” said Mr. Fernicola.
“I’ve always acted in good faith with regard to the town and negotiations … then I get blindsided with this whole eminent domain,” he said.
“I’d like to see this go away and go back to working with the town and making Point Pleasant Beach a better place,” he said.
Both parties have confirmed a date in April to meet for an appraisal of the property. Before these appraisal negotiations were finished, the borough filed a petition to ask the court to order Mr. Fernicola to either attend the appraisal or give up his right to do so. That ruling is set for April 19 in the Ocean County Superior Court.
The public hearing and second reading on the acquisition ordinance is set for the next council meeting April 20.
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