Martin O’Donnell is a concerned parent simply making sure that his 7-year-old daughter does not have to ride her bike in and out of used condoms and beer cans.
At the Sunrise Beach Club on Capstan Drive, the beach is technically closed from dusk to dawn but people tend to congregate there at all hours of the night, O’Donnell and other residents of the area said. From lewd behavior, drinking and supposed drug deals to thefts, property damage and illegal parking, something has to be done, said O’Donnell, who often phones the police and takes matters into his own hands by “politely” asking the trespassers to leave.
“This is about kids. This isn’t about adults. We don’t want to worry that they’re going to run into beer cans, condoms, drugs or get mugged," he said.
Township officials and the beach club say they haven't received complaints of errant behavior although township police have responded well more than 100 times this year to the area, on self-initiated security checks and in response to resident complaints.
There have been incidents of kids throwing the picnic tables that are set underneath the pavilion and even a swing set that was snapped in half. O’Donnell donated that $5,000 swing set to the Beach Club.
Another resident, who declined to provide a name for fear of retaliation, reported that during broad daylight, a couple parked on the street beside their family party and started engaging in sexual acts. A third resident who also wished to remain anonymous reported that he had to intervene when a man was beating his girlfriend.
Those living in close proximity to the Sunrise Beach Club have essentially imposed a neighborhood watch program.
“You can cause so many problems but nothing’s being done,” O’Donnell said. “We’re trying to protect our family members.”
Although Mayor Mark Dykoff hasn’t received complaints, he said the best solution would be to “beef up patrol."
Police response, beach club responsibilities
“The Lacey Township Police Department maintains a policy of responding to all calls for service utilizing prioritization when dealing with times of limited availability of patrol personnel,” Police Chief William Nally said.
From Jan. 1 through Sept. 21, police responded 84 times to Sunrise Beach Club. Most of the response was for property checks with a few suspicious autos, according to an incident report for 5000 Capstan Drive, Forked River.
Police have engaged in 130 self-initiated, security checks of the Sunrise Beach Club as well as 30 self-initiated and/or citizen-initiated reports of suspicious incidents or persons — two of which were juvenile problems — from Jan. 1 through Oct. 9, Nally said.
“The considerable resources dedicated to the Sunrise Beach Club property has come as a result of the Lacey Township Police Department being responsive to the requests of the residents in the area,” he said.
Jack Nosti, president of the Beach Club said he was unaware of the problems and hasn’t received complaints.
“There are signs down there. They’re not allowed on the beach,” he said. “We’ve put lights on in the pavilion to discourage and keep it visible so people wouldn’t be there in the dark.”
In the past, the Beach Club did have problems with vandalism, he said.
“Vandalism kind of runs in spurts down there,” he said. “With the age of the kids growing in the area, sometimes we suffered vandalism over the years.
“There are problems all over the township. I don’t know that it’s unique to that area,” he said.
The Beach Club is not exclusive, Nosti pointed out. All Lacey residents are encouraged to utilize the pavilion and the beach.
“We encourage people to use it because it’s helping us as much as it’s helping them,” he said. “They’re a little closer to call the police department.”
The Beach Club does intend to revamp the playground in the near future, he said. “We try to keep the area as clean and neat as possible,” he said.
But of the curfew not being enforced, Nosti said there is a sign but the gate is always unlocked.
“Over the years, it costs us more damage by locking the small gate,” he said. Kids get over it and still cause damage.
The gate that was installed around the Beach Club approximately 10 years ago was really put up to deter geese from using the property, not people, he said.
“The kids aren’t allowed on the property after dusk,” he said. “That was required by the township when we put the pavilion up. Police have the authority to impose a curfew there.”
Curfew, parking concerns
But the responsibility of enforcing the curfew is actually a Beach Club matter, township Administrator and Municipal Clerk Veronica Laureigh said. Laureigh also hasn’t received complaints about the area.
“I personally have not heard from any residents there complaining about anything, so I do not have it on any agenda to be addressed and not sure if it can be addressed. The no parking is already in place,” she said.
The Planning Board imposed a curfew on the beach when the Beach Club submitted an application for the pavilion, Laureigh said. But because it is Beach Club property, enforcing the curfew is not the responsibility of the township.
The small portion of the road off of Capstan Drive that leads to the Beach Club is a public road that the township maintains, she said. Although there is one “no parking” sign, according to the ordinance, both sides of the road is a “no parking” zone and has been since 1977. No parking is enforced between the hours of 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.
Nally explained that such a violation requires a court appearance, involves a fine decided by the judge in Municipal Court and court costs.
“Most instances of parking complaints have involved the vehicle(s) departing the area prior to an officer’s arrival,” he said. “When officers were able to interact with persons who were sitting within their vehicles, the parties were advised of the violation and in each instance the vehicles complied with the officer’s direction without incident.”
A request has been made to the Department of Public Works to install an additional sign at the eastern-most end of the road, Nally said.
“I think the response is twofold,” O’Donnell said, adding that both the Beach Club and the police have to be proactive. “Somebody needs to step up and cooperate and make sure its safe.”
Residents have made various recommendations that they feel could improve the situation, including additional “no parking” signs, locking the fence, more police drive-bys and possibly even adding a large gate to block the road to the Beach Club.
“The road again is a public access road so adding a fence and gate most likely could be in violation of the new DEP public access rules since it does go out to the bay,” Laureigh said.
The worst scenario would be a Beach Club security car, the residents said.
A request also is being made to representatives of the Sunrise Beach Club to post “No Trespassing” signs throughout the area to allow for enforcement of the trespassing statute during periods the gates are not properly closed, Nally said.
“Currently, the signs establishing the rules for usage of the private property, inclusive of a reference to “dues” being paid up to date, are unlikely to be sufficient for prosecution in criminal court,” the chief said.
Nally encourages residents with concerns beyond the response of police officers to contact the administration of the police department.
“The Lacey Township Police Department will continue to be responsive to citizens needs while working within the confines of the law,” he said.
O’Donnell is hoping for awareness and cooperation between the Beach Club and police to come to a solution, he said.
“I don’t blame the cops. Let’s be honest, they have a whole town to patrol,” he said. “I wish they would just work together to solve this.”