By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
MARGATE – They had to do it. The Planning Board Thursday, June 25 approved a preliminary and final site plan for Island Aqua Park Margate in the Amherst Avenue marina district.
The aqua park, which required no variances, is considered a “by right” application and therefore the board was required to approve it. Nevertheless, owner Maggie Day and her attorney and engineer presented the site plan and answered questions posed by board members and the public during the more than 90-minute hearing. More than 125 people attended the remote meeting, which was presented on GoToMeeting.
The 61,800 square foot aqua park, which is located entirely in the water, received permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the NJ Department of Environmental Protection. Day also received permits to dredge the area, which will be done at a later time.
Engineer John Holbruner of Highland Group in Ocean City, said Day will need to purchase or lease a section of the property near the bulkhead, Lot 5, from the City of Margate. The property consists of a rectangular floating dock with inflatable play equipment within the far end of the perimeter. The sides of the dock were moved inward a few feet to allow for proper ingress and egress of boats being docked on adjacent marina slips.
Day said patrons will access the play area through a stationary dock next to the city owned bulkhead, stop at the booth to pay for one or two hours of entertainment and be led to the far end of the dock where employees will let children onto the play equipment. She expects to employ 16 part-time employees working in two shifts, 9 a.m. to 5-6 p.m.
Neighbors wanted to know if the “pumps” would be running all day, but Day said the equipment normally stays inflated overnight and air pumps would likely only run for about 30 minutes before the park opens for the day. In the event of high winds or storms, the equipment would be deflated. In that case, it would take about an hour to inflate the equipment, she said.
Day assured Amherst Avenue residents that there would be no loud music emanating from the park.
The docks include parking for jet skis on the outer right side and for boats on the outer left side, but can only be used for patrons who arrive by boat or jet ski. The spaces will not be leased as a marina, Holbruner said.
The floating dock replaces the former marina, which was deteriorating, and no variance was needed for parking. The parking requirements for the old marina, .5 spaces per slip, and the new use remain unchanged. The local zoning ordinance would normally require 17 spaces, but because there is no on-site parking available, the requirement is waived. Like the previous owner, Day will have no reserved parking spaces along the Amherst Avenue public parking area, although patrons can park there if spots are available or on side streets.
Harbor Vista Homeowners Association attorney Robert Baronowski said Day should conduct a traffic study, but Day said there was one done last summer that was not part of the application.
Residents expressed concern about the safety of children being dropped off along Amherst Avenue, but that was beyond the purview of the Planning Board and should be taken up by the Board of Commissioners or Police Department, Chairman Richard Patterson said.
Margate Zoning Officer Roger McLarnon said the city is planning traffic safety improvements when the proposed promenade is built starting in the fall. The city will re-stripe the roadway to delineate shoulders and traffic lanes and install striped crosswalks, he said.
The city has awarded a contract to Arthur Ponzio and Associates to investigate the possibility of making Amherst Avenue between Washington and Coolidge avenues a one-way street.
Residents were most concerned about the possibility of having porta-potties visible on the landward side of the bulkhead, but Day said no restroom facilities will be provided at this time. Instead, she is working with area businesses to develop a plan for restroom facilities for employees and customers.
Day said the park would be open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and the equipment would be removed at the end of the season. There will be no food sales that could generate trash, and no changing area. To prevent drownings, every child will be equipped with a life jacket, which will be sanitized after each use, and employees will be available to assist the children. She expects between 65-100 patrons to be on the equipment at any one time.
Day said in the 30 years she has operated water parks, including the one in Stone Harbor where she lives and serves as president of the Board of Education, she has never had an accident. She also has three young children and safety is her top priority, she said.
The park will not be open after dark, so no lighting is proposed at this time. However, if problems develop, she would consider installing lighting, she said.
Attorney Eric Goldstein admitted the park has its supporters and detractors, and that Day has received threats. Someone threatened to shoot the inflatables, and another said he would do whatever he could to “shut her down,” Goldstein said. Day has spoken to Margate City Police to ensure she, her workers and the inflatables are safe, Goldstein said.
The board voted unanimously to approve the preliminary and final site plan.
Board member Tom Collins said the project presents “no detriment to the city.” Jim Galantino said it was a positive activity for children. Margaret Guber-Nulty thanked Day for investing in the city and that the project fits in with uses for the Waterfront Special District. Craig Palmisano said it was “a healthy activity for kids,” and much better than the “dilapidated” dock that was there, and Vice-chairman Michael Richmond said the use was “more environmentally friendly than a marina.”
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