POINT PLEASANT BEACH — The borough council voted to adopt an ordinance Tuesday to acquire the Amethyst Beach Motel and surrounding property either through negotiation or by eminent domain.
The action was once again met by strong opposition from owner John Fernicola and his counsel, who said eminent domain should never be used.
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 at 202 Arnold Ave. is adjacent to borough parking lots near the beach and boardwalk. Officials said its location would help resolve parking issues in the busy summer months.
Councilmembers Doug Vitale, Arlene Testa and Caryn Byrnes voted to adopt the ordinance, while members Andy Cortes, Bob Santanello and Tom Migut voted against the plan. Mayor Kanitra was the deciding vote.
In a related development, the mayor also cast the deciding vote in a rare council censure of Mr. Santanello, over a claim that he improperly disclosed information about the Amethyst Beach Motel from a closed session last month. Mr. Santanello has denied the accusation. [Story page 12]
According to borough officials, the Amethyst vote was the first step toward acquisition of the site. An appraisal will follow.
“Once the borough knows what the fair market value of the property is, then they’ll have a better situation in which to start projecting whether the revenues cover the cost,” said Borough Attorney Kevin Riordan.
This plan drew strong criticism from Paul Fernicola, a condemnation attorney representing owners of the Amethyst Beach Motel and who is of no relation to his clients. He said the action was procedurally defective since the ordinance claims there is a need for parking in the borough before any studies or information has been collected.
“I heard many comments tonight by the mayor that what this really amounts to is an economic taking,” said Paul Fernicola. “What really is happening is that you are taking a business so that you could take the revenue stream generated from the parking and what supports that is that you’ve conducted no studies whatsoever to establish that there is a need for parking in this town.”
He asked the council to table the ordinance because of that, as well as a claimed procedural violation at the last meeting, when Paul Fernicola was cut off from speaking during the ordinance introduction after posing questions to council members after being advised not to by Mr. Riordan.
Paul Fernicola was blocked from returning to the meeting, which he says is in clear violation of the state open public meetings law.
John Fernicola again said he was blindsided by the entire process.
“We don’t need threats to negotiate,” he said. “We are Point Pleasant residents, business owners for 60 years … I am more than willing to talk with you, work with you. I told you that.”
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 John Fernicola on Jan. 22.
Owner denies stalling
John Fernicola said he was not dragging his feet on the issue as the mayor said, but was in Florida for the period receiving medical attention.
Mayor Kanitra plans to negotiate with John Fernicola to acquire the property, if possible, rather than using eminent domain, he said.
In response, Paul Fernicola said, “There are not free and fair negotiations when the sword of eminent domain is hanging over the property owner’s head. There’s nothing that prevents you from negotiating with the property without this ordinance in place.”
Councilmen Cortes, Santanello and Migut opposed the use of eminent domain.
“Once you use this kind of tool, it becomes easier to use it again,” said Mr. Cortes.
In response, Mayor Kanitra said, “We have zero intention of ever, ever using eminent domain for any residences and I will pledge to you that I have no intention of using condemnation for parking anywhere else in town during the rest of my time, if that is 10 years or 50 years.”
Councilman Santanello said the borough had not received any indication of support from residents on the issue.
“I don’t believe that this has anything to do with anything that’s been discussed either behind closed doors or in front of the world,” said Mr. Santanello. “This is about ego and proving a point, and giving, not an implied, but an explicit threat to every business in town – they better fall in line and obey or they, too, will be terminated.”
According to Mr. Riordan, the borough has options moving forward on the issue.
“If the appraisal comes back at too much money, the governing body may choose not to continue with the process,” he said, “but assuming that the number comes in at a number that the governing body thinks is reasonable, then they may wish to.”
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.