TOMS RIVER, NJ – The amount of wheeling and dealing done between Toms River Mayor Maurice “MO” Hill and Ocean County Commissioner Virginia Haines to close the purchase of the destroyed and abandoned lot that housed the remains of Joey Harrison’s Surf Club is mind-boggling.
For years, without enough cash to make the purchase, Hill and the Toms River Township council, led by former Councilwoman Maria Maruca were scratching their heads over how to get Maurice the extra cash he needed to purchase the lot from the Barcelona family.
One of those deals struck between Hill and Haines was the purchase of a 70-acre tract of land owned by the township at the corner of Church Road and North Bay Avenue to the County. That land sits across the street from the Toms River Department of Public Works, Mount P.U., and the Toms River Fire Academy.
Now, plans are being discussed by county officials behind closed doors to turn that site into a regional homeless shelter, the brainchild of former Toms River Township council Democrat Terrance Turnbach and County Commissioners Virginia Haines and Gary Quinn.
With Turnbach out of office after an embarrassing election loss in November, mostly because residents did not want a massive homeless shelter, the crew is at it again.
Last year, Haines suggested turning a plot of land near the Jackson Township Park & Ride into a homeless shelter, but those plans fell through.
Haines is now eyeing the 70-acre parcel adjacent to Ocean County, the open space champion wants to turn those 70-acres of woodlands once preserved by the Township of Toms River into a massive regional homeless shelter, according to administrators who wished to remain anonymous within the halls of the Ocean County administration building.
The shelter, to be built on county property will not be operated by the county according to Quinn.
“We’re not going to own it, not going to build it, not going to run it,” Quinn said in an interview with the Asbury Park Press back when he was planning to build it in Jackson.
Former Toms River Councilman Terrance Turnbach said he already knows who will operate it once it’s built.
“I think we are going to get there,” Turnbach said. “We have an organization that wants to run it.”
That organization is Just Believe, Inc., a homeless advocacy group run by Turnbach ally Paul Hulse.
Where the decision was once one to be made by the Toms River Township Council, it now lies in the hands of the five-member Ocean County Board of Commissioners. Haines and Quinn support the project, the votes of Commissioners Joe Vicari, Jack Kelly, and Bobbi Jo Crea are uncertain.
Haines, who is running for re-election in 2022 has tried to keep the cat in the bag until after this year’s election, but now, the homeless shelter could be a hot topic should any brave Republicans decide to challenge the aging commissioner in the GOP primary election in June and risk facing a life-long wrath by the politically vindictive 76-year-old.
Haines is no stranger to community housing. She said she and her family grew up living in county housing inside Lakewood’s Ocean County Park from the time she was 2-years-old when her father was the head groundskeeper at the park. The family, she said lived in the county-owned home inside the park until she was nearly a teenager.
Being the newest and perhaps one of the most modern homeless shelters at the Jersey Shore, the facility, which could house more than 100 homeless individuals will be a statewide destination for the state’s homeless population. The location is in Toms River’s North Dover section where a large Orthodox Jewish community has been growing for several years.