Asbury Park Press, 4/27/2007
Sea Bright club OKs access

FREEHOLD – Donovan’s Reef Beach Club, one of nine defendants in a beach-access lawsuit, reached a settlement Thursday with the state Attorney General’s Office to allow the public unrestricted access to and use of its Sea Bright beach.

According to Stefanie A. Brand, assistant attorney general in charge of litigation, Donovan’s Reef may charge a “reasonable fee,” in the access agreement.

Peter Yasenchak, attorney for Donovan’s Reef, said the club already provides unlimited access to the public at a cost of $5 per day.

“They never restricted access in the way some of the other beach clubs do,” Yasenchak said.

After further discussion Thursday in state Superior Court Judge Alexander D. Lehrer’s courtroom, the lawsuit moved into the discovery phase.

In the suit, filed in September, the state argues that because private beaches in Sea Bright have been improved by a publicly funded $29 million beach-replenishment project, the general public should have access to them.

According to the suit, the Army Corps of Engineers replenished the borough’s beaches in 1995 and in 2003, turning them from “a narrow strip” to “approximately 250 feet” from the water line.

After discussion, Lehrer granted a request by Paul Schneider, the attorney representing the Chapel and Driftwood beach clubs, to allow the defendants to amend their pleas in the case.

Thomas Hirsch, the attorney for the Surf Rider Beach Club, said this means defendants are now allowed to file countersuits.

Lehrer also gave attorneys a 120-day discovery period, during which time, Hirsch said, lawyers would be able to ask questions and take depositions “to try to get a better understanding of the state’s factual allegations in their complaint.”

The judge, however, told the attorneys on both sides that he was not ruling out the possibility of a settlement, saying that if during the discovery period “you do want a settlement conference, I’m available any time day or night.”

Brand said Thursday it was “unclear” what the move into the discovery phase will mean for the case.

“Discussions will continue, but we’re moving the case forward, which is fine,” she said. “We filed the case, we’re ready to litigate it.”

Lehrer said both sides will be returning to court before the 120-day discovery period is finished, and there will be another conference after the defendants amend their pleas. He also remained hopeful that the situation could be settled through discussions and negotiation.

“(Both sides’) positions are different, but they are not so far apart that a settlement can’t be reached,” he said.

On Jan. 29, Lehrer ordered the state to provide club owners with a detailed description of the expanded beach access being sought by the suit.

On March 13, Brand said the state would like to see unrestricted public access on any area of beach containing sand put there by the replenishment project.

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©2007 Asbury Park Press
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