- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 17, 2004

SOUTH BELMAR, N.J. (AP) — When some people hear the name South Belmar, the first images that pop to mind are rowdy summer vacationers or drunken college kids screaming at the top of their lungs at 4 a.m.

Even though most of those excesses are more common in neighboring Belmar, residents of this tiny borough to the south get tarred with the same brush. So they decided to abandon their town’s name.

On Election Day, residents voted to rename the community Lake Como, returning the area to its early 1900s roots while instantly boosting property values. One real estate agent estimated the new name could be worth an extra 15 percent to 20 percent on the price of most homes here.

“It’s more attractive, more meaningful to have your own name rather than being known as south of somewhere,” said Paul Heaney, owner of Paul’s Tavern in South Belmar.

Not everyone is wild about the switch, though. Some say they’ll miss the identity they grew up with. Others say Lake Como sounds too pretentious for a borough with a strong blue-collar streak.

“It’s been South Belmar for years. Why change it now?” asked Cindy Martinez. “If you tell people where you live and you say ‘Lake Como,’ they say, ‘Where … is that, Pennsylvania?’”

The area was known as Como in the early 1900s, and had its own post office and train station. It later became part of Wall Township before incorporating itself as South Belmar in 1924.

Of course, the area bears little resemblance to the other Lake Como — a massive lake in northern Italy favored by European vacationers who visit the tiny villages in the foothills of the Alps.

Robert Kirk, a longtime resident who spearheaded the name-change campaign, said the character of the one-fifth square mile borough is changing, even if its image isn’t. More property owners are fixing up homes and the number of year-round residents is increasing.

“You wouldn’t believe how many people don’t know we’re our own town,” he said. “I know one girl here who nearly didn’t get married because she went to Belmar Borough Hall to get her marriage license instead of South Belmar. She didn’t even know we’re our own town.”

Of the 679 residents who weighed in on the name change, 379 supported it, while 300 were opposed. The switch should become official in a month or so, after the election results are certified and paperwork is received and filed.

The borough’s business community actively backed the name-change campaign and pledged to pay the entire $18,000 cost of switching street signs, government letterhead, police badges and related expenses.

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