VENTNOR – After two hours of testimony Monday, Sept. 24, the Planning Board approved a pocket park on on the 5000-block of Ventnor Avenue between Oakland and Nashville avenues in the North Beach section.
The applicant is Ventnor Memory Park, a public non-profit with three board members, who over the last year acquired four undersized lots to make up the 80- by 87-foot parkland. The site, which has been vacant for about 10 years, is surrounded by multi-story residential buildings and the North Beach business district.
The board unanimously approved a use variance along with variances for lot depth, fence height, side buffers and all the waivers necessary to construct the “quasi-public” park, which architect Todd Miller of QMA Architects of Ventnor called “a small green oasis” in an urban environment. The vote was 7-0 with Commissioner Lance Landgraf and board member Mike Wiesen abstaining.
Board member Roman Zabihach said he had reservations about the locked gate and 8-foot tall iron fence surrounding the park, which he said was “designed to keep people out” instead of inviting people in. He and other board members said they would like to see the park offer full access to residents. The park will have a video surveillance system that the board asked to be connected to the police communication system.
According to part-time resident Paula DeLuca, the park will be open to “user groups” such as churches, businesses, puppy trainers, children’s groups, and be available for special events, including holiday happenings and small weddings. User groups will be screened, pay a fee to use the park, and gain access through “keyless entry” system. A caretaker who lives in the neighborhood will monitor the park, ensure its cleanliness and assist with scheduling use of the park.
One board member called it “a private club with an open space veneer.”
Chairman Jay Cooke said he would like to see VMP find ways to incorporate more public use.
VMP will be required to submit a full site plan to city Planner Roger McLarnon, showing the location of all amenities, which includes a gazebo and shed at the rear of the park, an “on demand” splash pad, and the location of any pumps needed to operate it. VMP will also provide a detailed lighting plan, which Miller said would include fixtures that project light downward so as not to disturb neighbors at night.
DeLuca, who has provided VMP with a no-interest loan to construct the park, said she would like to see construction begin as soon as possible so it can be open for the 2019 summer season. The user fees will be used to maintain the park and keep it “self-sustaining,” DeLuca said.
Contributors large and small could help pay back the loan with naming rights for the gazebo, purchasing bricks, etc.
“It’s a use it or lose it proposition for Ventnor residents,” she said.
Should the park, which will cost about $500,000 to build, not be self-sustaining after five years, the property could be sold and any proceeds donated to a similar non-profit, she said.
The property will be tax exempt as long as it is being used for charitable purposes, however, the park will “energize” the neighborhood and increase property values in the area, she said.
Consideration of tax revenue is not a basis for approving or denying a use variance, VMP Planner Jason Scuillo of Scuillo Engineering Services, LLC of Margate said.
Several residents praised DeLuca’s commitment to the city.
“Next to the movie theater, this will be the greatest thing to happen in Ventnor, especially in the North Beach area,” resident Michael Weinrob said. “It’s phenomenal that we have a resident putting up her own money to put in something the city cannot afford.”
Resident Norman Klinger, who said he contributed toward getting the C-Shore Park built years ago, said despite the absence of tax revenue, the park would enhance values and attract people.
“It builds on the community spirit that is part of Ventnor,” he said.
Way of Life Church Pastor James Macabeo said the park would help change the neighborhood for the better.
“This will give more to the city than just taxes,” he said. “It will enhance the quality of life in our town.”