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Sea Bright Takes Hurricane Sandy as an Opportunity to Reinvent Itself

On the “Economic Development” board asking people what kinds of businesses they’d like to see downtown, people left notes saying they’d like a bakery, a florist, a place that sells greeting cards, and a coffee house with free wi-fi. They’d also like to see the re-opening of the post office and the local bank, which have been permanently shuttered since the storm. Other boards were focused on “Housing and Neighborhoods,” “Waterfront Development,” and “Municipal Lot Development.”

Barbara Nadler has lived in town for 17 years. She said she wants Sea Bright to maintain its funky vibe for artists and other creative people. “Open up the restaurants so they have tables outside, and eating al fresco. People would come to that,” she suggested, adding that chess tables on top of the seawall might also attract visitors. “You need to have something that is special to Sea Bright!” Residents of Sea Bright agreed to continue their brainstorming in several committees, sorting through the hundreds of suggestions to come up with a clear vision of what steps the town should take in the months ahead.

It’s not that people haven’t had these types of discussions in the past, but Sandy has effectively wiped the slate clean and created an environment in which they’re forced to rethink things from scratch. And it’s brought with it the possibility of securing funding to finally turn some of those pie-in-the-sky ideas into action.

Frank Lawrence said the grassroots method, soliciting ideas from the ground-up, rather than the top-down was essential to give Sea Bright the best chance at getting grants. “Part of the federal Sandy money that’s come out has been put aside to fund projects specific to recovery of towns,” he explained, stressing the need for public input into the process of planning process.

“We could have put five people in a room and come up with pretty good ideas. But if it doesn’t come from the community, it’s much more difficult to convince the funding agencies to release the money to us.”

The goal for Sea Bright and the other towns participating in the Local Recovery and Resiliency Network is to make the Jersey Shore more resilient, one town at a time.

For now, the discussion is mostly centered on suggestions from residents. Specific, technical mitigation strategies will be considered at greater length later in the process, once planners with more expertise get involved.

But according to Carlos Rodrigues of the Bloustein planning program at Rutgers, “resilience” doesn’t just mean making Sea Bright better able to withstand future storms. “It’s that it’s more sustainable, more self-sufficient,” he explained. “So, what do you do to diversify this local economy and attract activities that will generate employment, generate wealth, revenue, and attract people to come here that would otherwise not be?”

The committees of residents focusing on community facilities, housing, economic recovery and the waterfront are in the midst of identifying their priorities, and will report back with their recommendations at another town meeting early next month. Plans will then be wrapped up by early November, and the borough will apply for grants to implement some of the ideas.

Planning advocacy groups say that if these trial partnerships are successful, they could spread and set a model for future recovery efforts up and down the coast.

Scott Gurian is the Sandy recovery writer for NJ Spotlight.

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