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News | Tuesday, June 29, 1999
Whitman signs law allowing ban on nudity at Higbee Beach
Statehouse Bureau, 292-4935
TRENTON --The sun has set on nudity at Higbee Beach.
Gov. Christie Whitman signed legislation Monday that allows Lower Township to enforce its decade-old ordinance banning nude sunbathing on the secluded beach. The town had previously been barred from enforcing the ordinance because Higbee Beach falls on state land.
Lower Township Mayor Larry Starner said he believes the ban on nudity will help ease problems the municipality had been facing with lewd behavior in the dunes and parking area around Higbee Beach. Reports of homosexual acts in the beach's vicinity prompted the call for legislation to allow Lower Township enforcement power on the state land.
"I'm pleased that she did sign the legislation," Starner said. "I think it's going to alleviate some of the problems. I think it's going to make life easier for the residents."
Lois Yates, lobbyist for the Naturist Association, a national organization based in Texas, said she expects one of the major naturists organizations to file a challenge to the law.
"There probably will be a legal challenge once the lawyers get a chance to review it," Yates said.
Naturists fought the measure as it rapidly made its way through the Legislature, claiming the law unfairly targets nudists when lewd behavior was really the issue.
"It's a very big disappointment because it's doesn't solve the lewdness problem," said Joanne Sampey, board member of the Naturists Action Committee and the Friends of Higbee Beach. "I think in the end the lewd behavior was used to get the nudists off the beach. We're not for lewd behavior. It's dreadful."
Starner said the Lower Township Police Department is in the process of forming an enforcement plan with the Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife officials who patrol the area. He wasn't sure if that plan could be completed in time for the July 4th weekend.
"I had conversations with our Chief of Police last week to start setting a strategy to go in and enforce the law," Starner said. "I don't think there'll be much of a grace period. As soon as they have the strategy set with Fish and Game, we can go in and implement it as soon as possible."
Whitman also signed the fiscal 2000 budget into law Monday that earmarks $149,000 for Lower Township to purchase equipment and pay overtime hours to police officers to patrol the beach. In addition, the budget includes $85,000 for another parks and forestry officer in Cape May Point State Park that will help oversee the enforcement of the nudity ban.
"It will allow us to do four or five sweeps a week or keep two additional officers down there during the week," Starner said. He noted that he anticipates the need for patrols to decrease as the word gets out about the nudity ban.
Those who violate the ordinance would be issued a municipal ticket with a minimum fine of $50 and a maximum of $1,000, said Lower Township Police Sgt. Blaine Paynter. He said the penalties could even include a 90-day jail term, according to the ordinance, though that's unlikely to be used.
Sampey said the town's decision to ban nudity would likely hurt some of the businesses in Lower Township and the surrounding towns that benefited from the increased tourism naturists brought to the communities. The law signed Monday now leaves only one beach in Sandy Hook, Monmouth County, where nude sunbathing is permitted in New Jersey.
"I certainly won't be spending my money in Cape May and I know an awful lot of people who won't be spending their vacation money in Cape May," Sampey said.
But Starner said the lost revenue from naturists would likely be made up by increased traffic from families who can now visit the community without concerns of nude or lewd behavior.
"It did bring in an extra portion of (tourism)," Starner said. "With the business (stores) lose from the nudists, they're going to gain business from families."
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