Beachfront is wrong for library

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To the editor:

I oppose locating a library at 95th street and the beach on the grounds that construction on this site would degrade unique and irreplaceable beach property in a major way, degrade existing public scenic and convenience attributes at the site in a major way, hurt Stone Harbor's merchants, and damage Stone Harbor's property values.

Building a 13,500-square-foot structure on the beachfront would eliminate public parking spaces for beachgoers. The primary attraction of Stone Harbor is the beach. Access to maximum available parking for beachgoers from June to September is critical for the economic health of Stone Harbor: it underpins the property values, and influences the number of tenants renting property at residences and hotels, and patronizing the merchants along 96th street and First and Second Avenues.

Tenants will not rent in Stone Harbor homes, condominiums, and hotels if they are denied ready access to beachfront parking and restroom facilities at 95th street. They will go elsewhere with their children and extended families, somewhere they can conveniently transport their beach umbrellas, chairs, and toys to the beach, somewhere their elderly and disabled may need to walk only a short distance from their cars to the beach.

Moreover, a library on the beachfront creates a conflict among multiple users of the 95th street parking lot, and will overburden the remaining parking spaces, resulting in a major inconvenience to beachgoers. Whereas now mainly beach visitors park there, a library will require parking spaces permanently designated for library staff, museum staff, maintenance and repair personnel, and parking reserved for library and museum patrons, as well as attendees to events in the public meeting rooms.

In addition, parking availability at the beachfront must consider the operational needs of the 95th street lifeguard station with rescue boats and other equipment that require ongoing access, the beach tag sales office, and realistic traffic flow. At an April 2011 zoning meeting in Stone Harbor, a Cape May County official estimated that about 50 parking spaces would be necessary to support the library, museum, and meeting spaces alone.

A public parking facility at the beach is rare enough in Stone Harbor, and eliminating the limited existing spaces and creating conflicts among multiple users of that parking should not be permitted, as that would crowd additional cars into already-overburdened neighboring residential streets in the summer. During the summer months, we already have insufficient parking in the 95th street area for residents and beach visitors. Putting a public library on the beachfront would compound this problem severely.

Also, building a library/museum/public meeting facility on the 95th street beachfront is unsound construction. It makes no sense to place a $6 million structure with tens of thousands of books, sensitive new electronic, computer, and audio-visual equipment, and irreplaceable historical artifacts and archives on a beachfront that would suffer the brunt of flood and wind damage from a coastal storm. Have we learned nothing from our recent brush with Hurricane Irene? Building a library is building for the next 75 to 100 years, and its location and structural integrity should reflect sound, conservative, far-sighted judgment and wise apportionment of scarce taxpayer resources, more than romantic ideals.

A library at 95th Street and the beach would degrade existing public scenic attributes at this site. The current unimproved nature of the site provides the general public with views of the beach, dunes, and ocean. Such views are currently available to all pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists who travel along First Avenue. A library building constructed to run parallel with the ocean would create a wall that blocks all scenic views. It will completely deny the public the enjoyment of these existing scenic views.

Borough residents, property owners, taxpayers, and vacationers have all repeatedly and continually expressed opposition to locating a library on the 95th street beachfront.

At an April 18 public meeting held to discuss viable options for a library location, a majority of Stone Harbor property owners, taxpayers, and voters voiced opposition to locating a library on the beach. Yet the mayor and the county have continued to press forward with proposed construction on this ill-advised 95th street beachfront location despite very clear messages from Stone Harbor constituents to locate the library elsewhere.

There are much wiser alternative building sites available for a library than the 95th street beachfront. Sound reasoning and far-sighted, conservative analysis reveals that the best site for the library is on borough-owned lots on Second Avenue between 93rd and 94th streets.

This location is large enough to accommodate both the already-designed structure and designated parking space, and this area is in fact larger than the 95th street beachfront site. Moreover, it is convenient to nearby commercial and public use areas frequented by residents and visitors alike. It would also be particularly convenient to and safely accessible by the elementary school students who will be its primary users.

Locating a library on Second Avenue would offer higher-ground protection of the new structure from tidal and storm damage, and would allow the building to serve a dual purpose as a shelter in the event of a coastal storm - none of which positive attributes are available at the proposed 95th street beachfront location. Unlike the beachfront site, the Second Avenue site would do no harm to Stone Harbor property values, retail businesses, or parking critical for beach visitors who rent homes, condominiums, and hotels, and patronize the merchants.

Although the Seng Place and 96th street alternate site shares many of the same public convenience attributes as the Second Avenue site, with none of the negative attributes of the 95th street beachfront site, locating a library at Seng Place would require redesigning the structure to accommodate valuable tennis, basketball, and shuffleboard recreational facilities. This remains a viable library site pending redesign of the structure.

Lastly, I was very disturbed by the unfair presentation of the three viable options for the location of the library by the facilitator hired to "assist" with the county's presentation at the 18 April public meeting in borough hall. 150 property owners, taxpayers, and voters were treated to an insulting 3-dimensional slide show appallingly prejudiced in favor of the 95th street beachfront location. The presentation seriously misrepresented the Seng Place site, showing a grossly incompatible, oversized, distorted, disproportionate structure that purported to swallow the basketball and tennis courts.

The presenter showed no slides featuring a library on the Second Avenue/93rd/94th street site, lauded by many speakers as the most viable site for a library. Where was the fairness and transparency promised in discussing each of the three viable sites?

We Stone Harbor voters, property owners, and taxpayers demand a truly fair, equal presentation of all three viable sites for the location of the proposed library at the next public meeting set for April 28.


Tom Pluta

Stone Harbor

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