VENTNOR – The Board of Commissioners Thursday, Dec. 12 approved an ordinance authorizing the purchase of a lot at 6510-12 Ventnor Ave. according to terms and conditions set forth in a contract between the city and 139 Dorset Avenue LLC.
During a public hearing, resident Kenneth Ross was the only person to question the commissioners about the purchase. Mayor Beth Holtzman was absent.
Ross asked if any precedent had been set for the purchase of property not immediately needed for a pressing municipal purpose.
“During our tenure, we have not,” Commissioner Lance Landgraf said. “It came to our attention from the owner of the property that someone had approached him to use the property for something we did not support. So, we thought it would be better to step in and purchase the property for open space for now.”
Landgraf said the city could have applied for Green Acres or Atlantic County open space funds to purchase the commercial property, but accepting funds would deed restrict the lot for open space in perpetuity.
“We’d rather have the option down the road that if someone came to us with a really good project, we would rather do that,” he said.
Landgraf said he would not disclose the other use until the property goes to settlement.
The 30-foot wide lot, which is the site of a fire July 6, will be used as a pocket park for the time being, he said.
The fire started in the rear of the third-floor unit and quickly spread throughout the interior of the building. The fire was discovered by a tenant who was awakened by her barking pit-bull, and they quickly evacuated the building. No one was injured and the blaze was brought under control within two hours. The burned-out building was deemed dangerous to the public and demolished the next day.
The property is owned by Margate real estate broker DJ Gluck, Landgraf said.
Ross expressed concern about taking a commercial property off the tax rolls, however, Solicitor Tim Maguire said the other entity interested in purchasing the property could also apply for a tax exemption.
The lot and improvements were assessed at $390,800 with taxes at $10,102 for 2019. However, Tax Assessor Bill Crowther said the 2020 assessed valuation will be reduced to land value only at $249,600. The amount of taxes due next year will not be known until the county strikes the 2020 Ventnor City tax rate.
“The fallacy that is out there is that we paid its assessed value,” Landgraf said. “It’s not even close.”
Although he would not disclose the sale price until it goes to settlement sometime after the New Year, the sale price is “significantly” less, he said.
Landgraf said the city will pay the value noted in a recent appraisal. The city is currently conducting its “due diligence” by conducting a Phase II environmental assessment to ensure there is no contamination in the ground.
Ross questioned the idea of building a pocket park on a very narrow lot between two buildings, one of which is somewhat unsightly, he said.
Commissioner Tim Kriebel said that when the building was razed the building inspector noted the condition of the adjacent three-story building and the property owner will be required to make improvements to the fire escape staircase.
“My concern is that a pocket park will become a needle park,” Ross said.
The city is considering a camera system at city-owned properties that could make the area more secure, Landgraf said.
“There are certainly challenges there, but we think this is a good option for the community,” he said.
Kriebel said he spoke with some high school students, who requested chess boards and Wifi, and a possible stage for concerts.
“It is a place that can be a draw for our downtown,” Kriebel said.
Ross also asked the commissioners to inform the public if they have any financial interest in the property. To that, both commissioners replied they did not.
“We have no personal gain whatsoever,” Kriebel said.
The contract of sale was not immediately available, but will be released next week, a representative of the City Clerk’s office said.