By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
VENTNOR – Over the objections of neighbors in Margate, the Ventnor Planning Board Monday, Feb. 15 approved a minor site plan for a new casual fare restaurant opening on the corner of Ventnor and Fredericksburg avenues at the city border.
Water Dog Smoke House, LLC, which has been smoking fish on Washington Avenue in Margate for the last several years, received all the necessary site plan approvals to open a 15-seat restaurant in the former Sun Bank building at 7319 Ventnor Ave.
Represented by attorney Christopher Baylinson, Water Dog owner Steve Marchel, who lives just a block away from the restaurant location, required no variances to open the restaurant, but received a waiver for a landscape buffer along the neighboring residential area.
According to Baylinson, no variances were required because a restaurant is an approved use in the Commercial Zone, but Water Dog will need to obtain the approval of the Atlantic County Planning Advisory Board because the building fronts a county road.
The restaurant, which will offer a new concept in casual dining, will be open seven days a week year-round from 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., he said.
Marchel, who grew up in Margate, said he started smoking fish two years ago and sold his products at area farm markets and online. He also operates Chido Burrito in Northfield.
“We heard from a bunch of our clients that we wish you had a restaurant or a place we can buy fish year-round,” he said. “I had moved to Ventnor at that point and I became a partner in the group that purchased the bank.”
Marchel said he would ask the Board of Commissioners for a license to have outdoor seating in the right of way like other area restaurants.
The restaurant will have a poke bar – a Hawaiian-themed salad bar that includes Marchel’s smoked fishes, vegetables and other condiments – and unique bagel, egg and crème cheese sandwiches made in a way that will not compete with other breakfast restaurants in the area, he said. The same menu will be offered all day long, and the fishes will be smoked off-site and delivered to the restaurant daily.
“The menu will be different than others in the neighborhood,” he said. “We’ve carved out a niche to fill a void that’s there now.”
The 15-seat restaurant will offer take-out, WiFi and soft music. Employees will park at a location in Margate and be shuttled to the restaurant.
Residents who live in Marven Gardens on the Margate side of Fredericksburg Avenue objected to having a restaurant in their neighborhood mostly because of a lack of parking in the neighborhood.
The property has six off-street parking spaces – more than required by the city’s developmental code, which requires one parking space for every three seats. There is a driveway entrance to the parking lot on Ventnor Avenue and two-way access to the parking lot on Fredericksburg Avenue, where traffic flows one-way south to Ventnor Avenue.
Resident Susan Alice who lives on East Drive in Margate said the site is not a good location for a restaurant because parking is at a premium in the densely populated area.
“Parking is horrific,” she said.
Resident Andrea Week who lives on the Margate side of Fredericksburg Avenue is concerned about property values. She said she wouldn’t have purchased her home if she knew there would be a restaurant across the street. She said she is concerned about parking, noise, litter and smells coming from the restaurant.
“If he wants outside seating, it absolutely cannot be on Fredericksburg. I’ll have to look at people eating, making noise, trash and parking all over my street. I didn’t buy this house to be across from a restaurant,” she said. “We don’t want people traipsing up and down our street…I don’t want any seating on Fredericksburg, no tables or chairs, or I swear to God, I will kick them over.”
Another resident said Marchel has a beautiful idea, but for the wrong neighborhood.
“It’s not residential,” she said.
For as many people who spoke against the application, there were others who welcomed the concept.
Ventnor Heights resident Marsha Galespie said Marchel is offering a new dining concept, different from the many Italian restaurants, pizza parlors and breakfast restaurants in the area.
“This is something new for our shore town. We all suffer from parking issues,” she said. “Be happy this is something new.”
Ken Cutungo, who has lived on Martindale Avenue for more than 30 years, said the site has far more parking spaces than any other restaurant in the area. He said summer doesn’t start until he gets someone towed.
“I love that they have a place to park and that they are offering something different,” he said. “They are taking an abandoned building and turning it into a great new restaurant. Do you want to look at the bank the way it stands now? No matter what this building is, people will drive to it.”
Chris Brondenberger, who moved to Ventnor from New York City, which offers a plethora of international cuisines, said Ventnor’s restaurant renaissance is the exact reason he and his wife chose to move to the city.
The bank building’s old drive-thru will house walk-in coolers and office space and a trash enclosure will be located next to the bump-out. The existing lighting will be repurposed for the restaurant and existing lighting made to conform with city requirements, Baylinson said.
Board members unanimously approved the application stating another use could be more intense.
“What could be there, as opposed to what is proposed, could be a lot worse,” board member Mike Wiesen said. “A year from now when he has gotten a year of summer business in, people will be happy there’s not a gas station or hardware store, not something bigger than it could be.”
Chairman Jay Cooke said the use meets the intent of the city’s Master Plan and economic plan.
“It’s not to the city’s benefit to have a building abandoned for so long when it is viable and usable,” he said. “The resort-minded business will add some flavor and a zest for life by offering options.”
In other business, the board approved a Certificate of Non-conformity for Ventnor Worldwide, LLC, the developer of the Santucci’s pizza restaurant currently under construction at the old Arrow Hardware site, to maintain two residential apartment units above the commercial space next door. The site previously housed one- and two-bedroom apartments above commercial space, while the property after it is redeveloped will have two, two-bedroom units and a store at ground level.
The board also approved a final site plan for Two Pioneers, LLC to build eight residences on N. Baton Rouge Avenue. Applicants Brian Callaghan and Jon Barnhart previously received approval to sub-divide the property after reducing density from 10 units to eight units with off-street parking.
Callaghan said construction on the first unit would start in spring.
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