MARGATE – The Board of Commissions has pulled from its Sept. 20 meeting agenda a public hearing on ordinance that would, in part, create a boutique hotel overlay zone between the beach and Atlantic Avenue from Monroe to Cedar Grove Avenue. The area already is home to several high-rise condominiums, townhouses, a restaurant and the National Historic Landmark Lucy the Elephant.
At the request of the commission, the Planning Board on Aug. 23 reviewed the ordinance, which passed first-reading on Aug. 2, and recommended its adoption. A public hearing on the ordinance was scheduled for the Aug. 20 meeting, but after numerous residents objected to it, the board decided to pull it from consideration indefinitely, according to a Sept. 13 release from management consultant DawnMarie Bascelli.
According to Bascelli, “there was too much confusion and misinformation” in the community about the boutique hotel/condominium concept, so the commissioners “tabled” it.
The commissioners have asked the Planning Board to further study the matter and hold public meetings on “any related subject matter,” the release stated.
Mayor Michael Becker said the first order of business at the Sept. 20 meeting will be to table the entire ordinance, which means it can no longer be discussed at the commission level. The commission will then introduce for first reading a new ordinance containing other “housekeeping” changes that were contained in the tabled ordinance but without the overlay zone, Becker said.
Commissioners will request the Planning Board re-evaluate the overlay proposal, he said.
The boutique hotel overlay zone was recommended as part of the 2017 Margate Master Plan Review.
“We want the public to have a better understanding of the Master Plan process and ample opportunities for additional public comment before anything further is considered by the commissioners,” Becker said. “The Planning Board is the appropriate venue for this discussion.”
Rumors circulating in the community and on Facebook had Marriott purchasing the Greenhouse beachfront restaurant to build a high-rise and Lucy the Elephant moving to Atlantic City to make way for the development.
A recent post on the Margate City Facebook page stated, “Lucy The Elephant IS Margate. If Atlantic City wants an elephant, we will get them one from the gift shop. LOL.”
The city is in the final years of a 50-year lease for Lucy the Elephant, which sits on a parcel of ground designated open space by New Jersey’s Green Acres program.
“We have had multiple sessions regarding the lease, but have not come to an agreement,” Becker said. “I asked our team to get in touch with the Lucy committee, but a meeting date has not been set.”
The lease expires at the end of 2019.
The new Master Plan was approved after months of review, discussion and public input on how the city should control development. The review was funded with a $150,000 resiliency grant secured by grant writers at Rutala Associates of Linwood. Six focus group meetings were held targeting restaurant owners, retail establishments, marina district businesses, builders and architects, real estate professionals and attorneys, and religious groups, schools and the Recreation Department.
The master plan review was completed by numerous professionals, including the city’s engineering firm, Remington, Vernick and Walberg. It was adopted on March 20, 2017 after several public presentations held at Planning Board meetings. The Steering Committee included representatives of Spectrum Gaming Group, SOSH Architects and Econsult Solutions, according to the Master Plan document.
The proposed change to the city’s land use ordinance would have allowed development of a condominium complex with 20 percent of the units being available as daily rate hotel rentals with a front desk manned 24 hours a day.
Height of any new building in the zone would be restricted to the height of other existing buildings in the zone, which is 200 feet, city Planner Roger McLarnon said at the Aug. 23 meeting.
According to Commissioner John Amodeo, who testified at the Aug. 23 planning board meeting, Margate once had many hotels and motels, some of which have been turned into condos, while others have been redeveloped into residential units that have attracted second homeowners.
Having a boutique hotel would offer full amenities to short-term visitors, he said.
“There are people who want to come to Atlantic City that don’t want to stay there if they bring their kids. They’re staying in Ocean City, Avalon and south. Why wouldn’t we want them to come to our town?” Amodeo said.
Although no discussion or vote on the ordinance will be held at the Sept. 20 Board of Commissioners meeting, members of the public have said they would attend and voice their opinions about the matter.
Some residents have expressed mistrust in their municipal government and feel the ordinance change was suggested to accommodate a deal already in the works.
“Without exception, as far as I know, there has never been any backdoor deals,” Becker said. “No government has been more open and transparent as we have.”