Long Beach Island opens its doors - a little

The beach in Beach Haven, Long Beach Island. LBI's beaches are public. But in the northern towns, many of the paths from the boulevard to the beach are marked private, accessible only to the people who own the homes that line them. In the busier southern towns, beach access is not an issue.
The beach in Beach Haven, Long Beach Island. LBI's beaches are public. But in the northern towns, many of the paths from the boulevard to the beach are marked private, accessible only to the people who own the homes that line them. In the busier southern towns, beach access is not an issue. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 14, 2014

Holgate, meet Barnegat Light.

Go ahead, Beach Haven, get on board and get off in North Beach, though what you'll do up there on the side of the Long Beach Island road, surrounded by "Private Road, No Beach Access" signs is another issue. Not to worry, another bus will be arriving shortly.

This is the utopian vision of a united and welcoming Long Beach Island being fostered by Joe Lattanzi, a Long Beach Township commissioner.

His dream, which drifts toward shared services and a post-Sandy tourist- and business-friendly island, consists of free public transportation: six 14-seat buses running the length of the island from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Free! And expected to start next week! (Beach badges will still cost about $40 for the season, $5 for a day.)

Never mind that there is no public transportation to the island - none from the Philly area and one private company that runs a bus from NYC, the place from which it seems more and more LBI vacationers hail.

Naturally, people are wary, especially in the quiet and quirkily beautiful opposite ends of this affluent Jersey shore island.

"I'm not so sure how much it's going to be used," said Paula Nicolai of Hunterdon County and Holgate, on the southern tip, where the island ends in a picturesque cliff and caution tape warning of severe beach erosion.

"The people down here do what they do down here," she said. "The people up there do what they do. It's not a resident-driven thing."

She says she's not ready to trade beaches or breakfast joints. "I don't need to go up to ScoJo's when we have Will's," she said.

The sentiment was similar 18 miles away.

"It's actually two different islands," said Ed Wellington of Barnegat Light at the northern tip, where the dunes are so wide and winding that they already run a free tram from street to beach and there are benches along the way to rest.

Barnegat Light has twice balked at a request from Long Beach Township to kick in $10,000 for the service, citing concerns from residents nervous about being "invaded" by free bus trippers from the rowdy south end.

"One of the reasons people rent here is because it's quiet," says Wellington. "We don't have the crowdedness. If they wanted the hustle and bustle of the south end, people would rent down there."

There's also the issue of time. "It's going to be a 45-minute to an hour ride," said Wellington.

Some questioned whether the bus would just serve to take people and business out of Barnegat Light. Old Barney, the Lighthouse there, is already New Jersey's second-most-visited tourist attraction.

And furthermore - well, you get the picture. Not everyone is embracing Lattanzi's dream.

Long Beach Township Mayor Joe Mancini, quick to note cheekily that he "rules" 12 out of the island's 18 miles (the township boundaries hop around the island), suggests a strategy for weary south-end parents.

"Give your kid an iPhone and say, here's the bus, go take a picture of Barney," he said.

Whether or not any of the other towns kicks in the requested fee, the bus shuttle is coming to LBI.

The advertising wraps on the bus will pay for most of it, Lattanzi said. Plus, Long Beach Boulevard is a county road, so Long Beach Township needs nobody's permission to run a bus along the balkanized route.

As soon as the police chief gives the go-ahead, you can stand on Long Beach Boulevard and hail a bus. Lattanzi thinks one will pass by about every 10 minutes. (The route will detour off the Boulevard in Beach Haven.)

In truth, getting Long Beach Islanders to think collectively about their skinny slice of paradise, especially after Sandy's erratic but significant beating, is serious business.

Mayor Mancini has long posted on the township website the addresses of those beachfront homeowners refusing to sign over easements to allow beach replenishment. The list is down to about 50, but Gov. Christie has said he will take the easements by eminent domain.

"It's kind of self-centered and selfish," he said of the holdouts.

Post-Sandy, that's not acceptable. "There's no more selfishness on the island," the mayor said.

Still, traveling the length of the island - whether by bus, bicycle or limo - underscores just how inaccessible much of its coastline remains.

If you catch the bus at the causeway, it would be a mere six minutes and 1.8 miles before you hit North Beach, Harvey Cedars and Loveladies - places dominated by long stretches of private roads that lead to the beach but do not invite you to do the same.

"Sandy Feet Drive Private. No Beach Access."

"Tranquility Lane: No Beach Access"

This has long been an issue on Long Beach Island, where some public access, parking and restrooms have been added recently at the insistence of the federal government.

LBI's beaches are public. But in the northern towns, many of the paths from the boulevard to the beach are marked private, accessible only to the people who own the homes that line them. But in the busier southern towns, beach access is not an issue.

The private lanes were born not of exclusivity but of earlier post-storm landscapes, Mancini said.

"Back in the '40s, there was nothing happening up there, they didn't want to put streets in," Mancini said. "They were selling tracts of land from bay to ocean after the '62 storm for $10,000."

Lattanzi, a radiation oncologist, says the island's character is not defined by affluence, but by a casual beach culture - and a determination to keep the plagues of other shore towns - duplexes, high rises - at bay.

"You can go into any restaurant in this island in shorts and flip flops, no jackets required," he said. "I would say the character of this island is that we control our density."

In Brant Beach, the homeowners association has installed solar lighting at beach ends that identify the street - a far cry from "do not trespass" beaches.

Lattanzi says he hopes buses also reduce drunken driving, at least until 10 p.m. "We're a senior citizen island so we're in bed by 9," Mancini says.

In Barnegat Light, Islander beach supply shop owner David Prouse welcomes travelers from the narrow beaches of the south. "Bring it on," he said. "The beaches here are miles long."

Nicolai, in Holgate, is not interested in trading beaches or breakfast joints. But as a resident of Long Beach Township (which encompasses Brant Beach, Holgate, Loveladies and North Beach), she sometimes longs for more island unity. She is not allowed to get a library card at the closest library in Beach Haven because it's not Long Beach Township.

Could the bus harbinger a shift toward an LBI where they even welcome people who take public transportation to the island? Once upon a time, in 1890, there was a train from Camden.

Not so fast. Even shuttle boosters are not ready to welcome bus trippers.

"It kind of keeps it quiet," says Christina Hopkins, an employee at the Islander. "You wouldn't want noisy people."


arosenberg@phillynews.com

609-823-0453

@amysrosenberg

www.inquirer.com/downashore

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