By Neil Schulman
Long Branch — Monmouth County Park officials say they’d like to build a walkway around Seven Presidents Park, connecting with the promenade and allowing people to walk all the way along the Long Branch shore. But to do this they’re asking the city to give up parking spaces along Ocean Avenue.
At the March 13 City Council workshop, Paul Gleitz, Principal Park Planner of the Monmouth County Park System, and Joseph Sardonia, Chief Landscaper, outlined proposals they’d like to implement at the county-owned Seven Presidents Park, as well as the skate park which is connected to it.
Gleitz said that they have been working on designs for years, and hope to start implementing some of these soon, though others are years away.
In addition to a pedestrian walkway, they are looking at changing how the traffic flows within the park, possibly adding a new exit location for cars. They also would like to consider, in the long term, making the stretch of Ocean Avenue north of the park into a pedestrian only walkway.
For years, people who like to walk the boards in Long Branch have had to basically stop at Seaview Avenue, where Seven Presidents begins.
“The Long Branch promenade really ends at this point,” Sardonia said.
Because of the admission fees to the park, the county doesn’t want to let people use a walkway through the park during the summer season. But they do want to make it easier to get around to North Long Branch. They are proposing a five foot pedestrian path and 10 foot bike lane on the east side of Ocean Avenue.
But that area is currently used for parking spaces, which are in high demand in the summer. Gleitz estimated there are about 88 spaces from Seaview Avenue to Avenel Blvd. that would be affected.
“If the city’s not willing to give up the parking, we could probably put a five-foot sidewalk in,” he said. That, however, would require cyclists to share space with pedestrians, dog walkers and others.
Another plan is to restructure the internal parking flow. Currently there are sometimes large backups that affect cars out to Joline Avenue. The park system wants to, among other changes, add an exit on the northern side, encouraging more cars to leave via Avenel Blvd. This might also take a few parking spaces to allow for vehicles to get out.
In the long term, they’d like to make the area north of the park into an open promenade. In addition to giving people more space to walk, it would help the park manage the sand dunes in the area more effectively. However, that would take an additional 72 parking spaces, and might require two complexes in the area to reroute their traffic flow to other streets.
City officials seemed interested, but had concerns.
“That’s a lot of parking spaces to lose,” said Police Chief Jason Roebuck.
Gleitz said that they’d like to put out a request for proposals on the promenade within a few months and will meet with city officials to see what works for them and iron out details.
He said the reason they’re outlining all the proposals now is because the NJ Department of Engineering needs to approve any work so close to the coast, and prefers to see all the projects at once.
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In a related project, an inline skating rink in the skate park that was destroyed by Superstorm Sandy in 2012 will be replaced by a different skating feature. Sardonia said the rink wasn’t used much before it was destroyed, but people have been requesting more features at the park.
While the park system does not need Long Branch Planning Board approval for the project, they will be presenting the plans for it to the board soon as part of the process.