Bradley Beach: 2021 Year in Review

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The year brought many changes to Bradley Beach, including the introduction of a new mayor, town-wide debate over on what to do with a former Methodist church building, and the acquisition of the iconic theater on Main Street by an entertainment group.

JANUARY

Larry Fox was sworn in as mayor of Bradley Beach on New Year’s Day, during the borough’s 2021 reorganization meeting. Mayor Fox, who was elected to a four-year term in the Nov. 3 2020 general election, was administered the oath of office by U.S. Navy veteran Josh Welle during a meeting held in person and via Zoom. Mr. Fox has served as the operations director and treasurer for Mr. Welle’s unsuccessful effort to unseat the Republican U.S. Rep. Chris Smith in 2018. 

A group of theater industry individuals joined to revive the former ShowRoom Cinema building by making it a venue for blockbuster films, as well as independent movies and live performances. 

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Cinema Lab, a team of film industry insiders, released a statement detailing the plan for the cinema, which closed last year due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. As envisioned by the group, the single-screen movie house would be relaunched as The Bradley, a multi-use “community-based cinematic experience,” with “three auditoriums, a large stage for live events, an expanded lobby with lounge space, elevated concessions and bar service.” The changes would require a number of applications and approvals. 

FEBRUARY

A Superior Court judge denied a motion filed by attorneys for the former borough administrator to force the borough to pay out $75,000 negotiated in a settlement agreement that has yet to be approved by the borough council. Kelly Barrett, the borough’s former business administrator, had filed a complaint in 2019 against two sitting council members, John Weber and Randy Bonnell, and the borough claiming she was discriminated against due to her gender and that she was harassed during her employment. 

A group seeking to purchase the shuttered ShowRoom Cinema asked Bradley Beach to enter into a $300,000 shared financial agreement in exchange for having access to the space for borough events and activities, Mayor Larry Fox said. According to the mayor, Cinema Labs proposed to use the requested infusion of municipal funding to help pay for the remodeling of the theater. The mayor said that he, the borough attorney and council members received briefings on the proposal from Cinema Labs, but no formal proposals have been entered yet. 

MARCH

Walk into the former First United Methodist Church and she will look at you. The face of a gray-haired woman with a stern gaze peers from the center of a stained glass window of the historic church that the borough purchased last year to keep from being demolished. Now, the Bradley Beach Historical Society can put a name to the face. “This is truly remarkable to finally get confirmation on the identity of the woman in the window,” said Paul Neshamkin, president of the Bradley Beach Historical Society. “But she has been ‘discovered’ before. It just shows how easily things can be lost to history.” Borough resident Jack Gentempo believes he solved the mystery — the woman was Sarah Jane Corson Downs, a local leader of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union from Ocean Grove.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected so much in the borough, but one of the least expected areas to feel the virus’s impact is the sewer utility. During a workshop on the borough’s sewer utility, officials discussed how their bill from the Neptune Sewer Authority will be $70,000 more, from $708,440 to $781,340, this year compared to last year as flow has increased over the past year. Elected officials in Bradley Beach said the increase was tied with an increase in flow, which they attributed to an increase in residents and summer residents staying in the borough throughout the pandemic. 

APRIL

The borough council approved a $75,000 settlement with former borough administrator and clerk Kelly Barrett, who alleged that she had been discriminated against during her employment. The suit was litigated in New Jersey Superior Court in Freehold, with the borough represented by attorney Kevin B. Riordan of Toms River on behalf of the Monmouth County Municipal Joint Insurance Fund [JIF]. The settlement cost was covered by the insurance fund, with the exception of a $2,500 deductible paid by the borough. 

MAY

The borough council unanimously introduced the borough’s 2021-2022 budget at a special council meeting. The borough held three budget workshops with residents on the beach utility, sewer utility and general fund, before introduction. “I believe our residents will be both happy and satisfied with our end product,” Mayor Larry Fox said at a special meeting of the borough council on May 4 when the budget was introduced. Homeowners pay a property tax bill that supports the municipal, school district and county budget. 

A concern over a lack of parking on Main Street this summer has caused the borough to unveil an updated proposal bolstering parking spaces for the borough’s central business district. The plan would delineate 66 parking spaces on Second and Third avenues along a triangular-shaped island between Main Street and Hammond Avenues, with the hope of creating more efficient parking in the area. 

The borough opened its playground on the beachfront promenade in time for Memorial Day weekend. Members of the Bradley Beach borough council celebrated the opening of the playground on May 22. Earlier this year, the borough had approved using nearly $100,000 to buy new playground equipment after the borough’s superintendent of DPW informed members of the borough council that the old equipment was in disrepair. The newly installed playground equipment held a deeper meaning.

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