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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

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North Wildwood Might Limit Umbrella Sizes, Types, Amid Beach Erosion

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With North Wildwood beaches suffering from erosion, the city council is planning to restrict the size of beach umbrellas and cabanas to help make sure everyone has room.

By Christopher South

NORTH WILDWOOD – A North Wildwood ordinance regulating the type and size of beach umbrellas people can use on its shrinking beaches has elicited a wide variety of responses, with some folks understanding the problem and others… not so much.

According to Ordinance 1934, introduced on Tuesday, April 2, beach umbrellas must be no larger than eight feet in diameter on a pole no higher than 7-feet 6-inches. The ordinance refers to the severe erosion North Wildwood beaches have suffered in recent years, saying, “in numerous areas there is virtually no beach at high tide, leaving little to no room for visitors.”

One person responding to the introduction of the ordinance wrote, “Smart idea because it’s fair. People erecting these large covers take up more than their fair share of beach.”

Taking up too much of a limited beach area is the motivation for the ordinance regulating the size of umbrellas, cabanas and similar devices, however, other – sometimes unrelated issues – enter into the discussion.

“I’ve had both umbrellas and the cool cabana. I think the cool cabana is much safer and sturdier than an umbrella. Those umbrellas once the wind takes them are like spears!” wrote one social media participant.

Such responses prompted other reactions such as, “The number of people that have sudden irrational fears of being impaled by umbrellas is unreal,” followed by a laughing-so-hard-I-cried emoji. The topic of the beach umbrella restricting ordinance allowed people to vent about others who create tent cities, or simply use their canopies to stake out an area of the beach without actually being there.

“The problem is people setting up large areas for hours before they show up. Big circles with nothing in the middle but open space,” said one poster.

Another suggested creating an area for large umbrellas and cabanas away from the waterline.

“Put that big stuff way in the back. Plenty of room back there. Not only do they take up a lot of room they block the view behind them.”

Another simply chalked this up to the government inserting itself where it doesn’t belong.

“Based on the flags I see down in Cape May County I see a lot of ‘govt. (sic) overreach’ disturbances on the horizon for whoever is enforcing this, this summer,” one man wrote.

North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello said the city does not have a strict enforcement plan but would be issuing gentle reminders as the season goes on.

“We kind of went through something similar when the state banned smoking on the beach. We will have to give gentle reminders throughout the summer,” he said.

Rosenello said the feedback about the ordinance has been roughly 50/50, with half the feedback supporting the idea of limiting umbrellas and cabanas, and the other half not wanting any restrictions.

“Interestingly, beach cabanas and tents were a frequent complaint I have received over the years,” Rosenello said. “About 50% of people said, ‘Thank you; it’s about time,’ and 50% feel it’s not a good idea.”

Rosenello said he believes “a good percentage” of the people commenting in opposition to the ordinance haven’t seen the North Wildwood beaches, lately. “We don’t go out and look for issues to upset people but when see problem on the horizon try to get ahead of it.”

In the case of umbrellas and cabanas, while there have been complaints about how large they are and how people use them, Rosenello said it really comes down to how much beach there is available for beachgoers.

“We really had no choice,” Rosenello said. “Unfortunately, we used to say inlet beach has plenty of space but it was severely eroded this winter.”

The beach near the 15th Street beach patrol headquarters has been the subject of a lot of discussion over the past couple of years. The beach would essentially disappear at high tide when waves would lap at the toe of the dune. When the dune was completely washed away in front of the North Wildwood Beach Patrol headquarters at 15th Street last fall. On Sept. 12, 2023, North Wildwood asked the state Department of Environmental Protection for an emergency authorization to install a bulkhead around the headquarters after remnants of Tropical Storm Ophelia, followed by a northeast storm, scoured away the entire parts of the dune. Rosenello said there are now some points south of 15th Street that had been holding up, saying 17th to 22nd Street beaches are “in decent shape, but smaller.” He said at this point, eroded beaches are a city-wide issue and people are going to have to accept it as a fact.

“We will have smaller beaches and folks are going to have to learn to be neighborly and conscientious of their neighbors,” Rosenello said.

The mayor said, optimistically, there is the possibility of the beach growing naturally. However, he has been in touch with the office of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and they are discussing the possibility of a state beach renourishment project ahead of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dune and beach berm project that has been on hold for over 10 years. Rosenello said the city has been moving sand to the northern beaches in an attempt to keep ahead of the erosion, however, North Wildwood has not had sand pumped on its beaches for about a dozen years.

“The last hydraulic dredge project was immediately following (Tropical Storm) Sandy during spring of 2013. That was funded by FEMA,” Rosenello said.

The mayor said many other towns up and down coast have had beach renourishment projects every three to five years, or three to four times since the last North Wildwood beach replenishment. He said other towns’ beaches would look like North Wildwood’s without those renourishments. He places the blame on the NJDEP and it’s response to the Army Corps project. Rosenello said the NJDEP was relying on the federal project, but failed to take care of its responsibilities, such as acquiring easements in municipalities affected by the project. The project includes building a 16 foot dune, 4.5 miles long, with 75 feet of berm. The project could begin in 2025 “depending on ongoing real estate acquisition being done by the State of New Jersey,” the USACE website says.

“The NJDEP failed to do its job failed to get the easements,” Rosenello said. “Everything else is just noise.”

The city council determined that an ordinance change, amending the ordinance put in place in 1950 related to the use of tents, tarps, cabanas, pavilions, canopies and similar devices. The ordinance says:

(1) Umbrellas with a circular shade no greater than 8’ in diameter and a pole not longer than 7’6” in height are permitted.

(2) Baby tents, not greater than 36” in height, width and length, used to shade small children and infants, are permitted.

(3) No person shall locate an umbrella or baby tent in an area obscuring a lifeguard’s view of the ocean or in an area impeding a lifeguard’s egress from a lifeguard stand, as determined by a lifeguard.

(4) Baby tents and umbrellas must be securely anchored to prevent uncontrolled movement; however, anchoring lines, tethers, stakes, weights or the like shall not extend beyond the perimeter of the baby tent or the umbrella.

(5) Umbrellas, baby tents and other personal items or equipment shall be removed from the beach by 9:00 p.m. Items left unattended between 9:00 p.m. and 9:00 a.m. the following day will be removed from the beach and discarded.

A public hearing on Ordinance 1934 will be held on May 7 at 10 a.m. in the meeting room at North Wildwood City Hall.

Contact the author, Christopher South, by email at csouth@cmcherald.com or by phone at 609-886-8600 ext. 128

Reporter

Christopher South is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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