VENTNOR – The Planning Board is scheduled to hear an application 6:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 24 requesting variances needed to build a pocket park on Ventnor Avenue between Oakland and Nashville avenues in the North Beach section.
TDN Land Acquisitions, LLC, a shell corporation, quietly purchased four undersized lots, including one from the city, and now has a parcel large enough to turn into a pocket park. The company transferred ownership of the lots to a non-profit organization that will build and maintain the park. The company attempted to purchase a fifth corner lot but was unable to come to terms with the seller.
Part-time residents Frank and Paula DeLuca are board members behind the effort to provide shoppers and residents with a place to relax and participate in community events.
The Ventnor Memory Park lists the Esther, Joseph and Scipio Memorial Charity Foundation, Inc. as the applicant.
DeLuca said having the pocket park would “increase foot and bike traffic to stores on Ventnor Avenue and induce better quality of shops” as well as provide an incentive for new shops to open in shuttered storefronts.
“Every place you find a well-maintained pocket park, ratables skyrocket,” she said. “It has a synergizing effect and projects a message of pride in the community. It ups the game.”
The non-profit organization’s attorney, Richard DeLucry of Cooper Levenson, presented preliminary design plans to Commissioner Lance Landgraf during a meeting on June 18, DeLuca said.
Landgraf said the design, created by architect Todd Miller of QMA Architects of Ventnor, was “beautiful” but the project would need to get the nod from the Planning Board.
The applicants are seeking a use variance, C variance for lot depth, preliminary and final site plan approval and any waivers the board deems necessary to permit the urban green space.
The property is located in the Northeast Ventnor Redevelopment Area, which does not recite “pocket parks paid for by private philanthropy” as a permitted use, DeLuca said.
However, the plan fulfills the goals of the redevelopment plan because it increases the amount of air and light, uses creative design standards and would enhance the quality of life for neighbors.
“The typical variances tend to seek the right to build up and cover more ground than local zoning limits allow,” she said. “We saw this as a chance to do something ‘green’ and attractive.”
The four lots, each measuring 20-by-87.34 feet, were purchased for $50,000 each, and are assessed at $127,000 each, according to Tax Assessor Bill Crowther. They are all in the Commercial Mixed-Use Zone. Annual taxes on each lot is $3,362.96.
“They would have to apply to make it tax exempt,” Crowther said.
Simply being owned by a not-profit organization does not automatically qualify it to be tax exempt, he said. It would be the use of the property that would determine if the non-profit could enjoy the same status given to schools, hospitals and churches.
The organization’s mission statement is “appropriate to land conservation, revitalization of a neglected tract of land and education,” DeLuca said in an email to Downbeach.com.
The organization reported $183,000 in donations in 2017 on its application for 501(c)3 status to the IRS and received a qualification letter from the federal government on Aug. 21.
The project will cost about $500,000 to build, DeLuca said.
The DeLucas want to do something that’s good for the town and without the typical profit motive, she said.
They will provide an interest-free loan to get the park built before next summer. Contributors large and small could help pay back the loan with naming rights for the gazebo, purchasing bricks, etc.
Design plans include landscaping elements such as native plants, bushes and fruit trees, community garden, splash pad area, benches, gazebo for nuptials and receptions, bike racks, information boards and a flag pole. The project includes a permeable concrete sidewalk with a border of red brick pavers.
DeLuca said she envisions holiday events and displays at the park, such as an Easter egg roll, children’s education programs, and the gazebo being an “anchor point” for events.
The park would have an 8-foot metal fence that would be locked overnight to prevent vandalism. A board member who lives nearby would be available to lock and unlock the gate each day. User groups would be invited to use the park and would have an identifiable key code to gain access.