By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
MARGATE – In an effort to be “transparent” and as a courtesy to residents, Zoning Officer Roger McLarnon advised the Planning Board and the public Thursday, June 25 that the Board of Commissioners is considering revisiting a controversial boutique hotel overlay zone that was deemed a “dead” issue two years ago.
Under the previous proposal, the commission was considering approving a boutique hotel overlay zone, which would have allowed 220 feet high multi-use buildings along a six-block area from Atlantic Avenue to the beach and from Monroe Avenue to Cedar Grove Avenue where several high-rise condominium buildings are located.
The iconic tourist attraction, Lucy the Elephant is located on Decatur Avenue directly across from Ventura’s Greenhouse, a possible site for expansion.
Greenhouse owner Lou DiVentura in March 2018 sought CAFRA (Coastal Area Facilities Review Act) permits to build “Ventura Margate Tower,” condo-hotel tower and beachfront restaurant at his site. He even secured a shadow study prepared by project engineer Arthur W. Ponzio and Associates.
Reports indicate DiVentura has now proposed a 6-8 story expansion and that there may be other properties within the proposed zone that are interested in expanding as well.
The hotel overlay zone was a recommendation of the 2017 Master Plan Re-examination Report, which is a publicly funded document that steers future development in the city. Any deviations from existing zoning ordinances reviewed by the Planning Board must meet the intent of the Master Plan to obtain variances. The report contains recommendations, but the governing body is not required to implement them.
The Master Plan report cited a loss of transient housing, which in the 1990s was considered detrimental to the city’s residential profile. However, transient housing bolsters the business community because hotel and motel guests tend to spend more at stores and restaurants, according to the report.
“It is the Board’s recommendation that, to bolster its tourism economy, the City is [in] need of transient lodging units and that this need would best be addressed in the form of a hotel tower or some combination of a hotel and condominium tower,” the report states.
The report recommended that any proposed changes to existing zoning ordinances address the preservation of light, air, open space and view corridors.
More than 100 people packed Commission Chambers on Sept. 20, 2018 to object to any changes in zoning along the beachfront. Members of the raucous crowd told the commissioners they didn’t want to see their residential community turned into a “honkey-tonk” town.
Citing “too much confusion and misinformation” in the community about the proposal, the commissioners tabled the ordinance. In a release to Downbeach.com in August 2018, Mayor Michael Becker said the commissioners would ask the Planning Board to re-evaluate the overlay proposal.
“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 in the release.
McLarnon said the commission has discussed “off the QT” reducing the prior proposal’s allowable building height to 110 feet from 220 feet and eliminating the previously required 20% of units reserved for transient or hotel use.
“That was way too high, so we want to get it down to about 110 feet,” he said.
McLarnon told the board during Thursday’s meeting, which was held via GoToMeeting videoconferencing, it was not being asked to discuss or hold a vote on the proposal at this time, although the public would be able to comment on it.
Rather, an ordinance would be introduced by the governing body on first reading at a future commission meeting and sent to the Planning Board for its review to ensure it meets the intent of the Master Plan.
“This is just a heads up to be transparent for everyone out there listening. We are not trying to hide anything, were just moving ahead and letting everybody know this could be coming,” McLarnon said.
The Planning Board would discuss the ordinance changes at a public meeting before sending its recommendations to the governing body, where a second reading of the ordinance and a public hearing would be held before the commissioners vote on its approval or disapproval, board attorney Elias “Leo” Manos said.
Attorney Robert Baronowski, who represents the Island House Condominium Association, said his client is interested in engaging the board in dialog about the height of buildings in the zone.
“The height issue we understand is not specific to the Greenhouse, but would include the Greenhouse,” Baronowski said.
He said the Island House is concerned the new ordinance could permit development over 100 feet when the current permitted maximum is about 38 feet high, he said.
Any changes in the height of buildings could negatively affect Lucy the Elephant, a National Historic Landmark.
Peter Primavera of Primavera Partners, LLC of North Plainfield, a historic preservation consulting firm that represents several historic preservation organizations, said Lucy was built 139 years ago to promote real estate investment in Margate and is the city’s biggest tourist and marketing attraction and must be seen by the public.
“You have one of the most extraordinary historic resources in the United States sitting there,” he said.
Lucy is one of 2,600 National Historic Landmarks and one of 56 on the NJ State Register of Historic Places.
Anything built in close proximity to Lucy could be detrimental to the iconic structure, including vibrations from building construction, shadows, wind effects and views, and that CAFRA approvals would be difficult to get.
“Lucy was built to be seen,” he said. “Anything built in close proximity to Lucy, particularly of any height that is not traditional…is detrimental to Lucy…”
He said he is prepared to present objections to the proposal from six historic preservation organizations.
Resident Henry Gorenstein said any effort to bring back the controversial overlay zone would be a “grossly incompetent and negligent move” on the part of the city that could lead to Lucy’s “potential demise, which I hope never happens,” he said.
Resident Aaron Singer, who attended the standing room only Board of Commissioners meeting on Sept. 20, 2018 when the ordinance was tabled, said the public was assured the overlay zone was a “dead” issue.
“Now they are bringing it up again?”
McLarnon said other proposed zoning changes include establishing an across-the-board 30-foot residential building height limit, regulating placement of backyard spas or hot tubs, and establishing standard front yard setbacks in the Parkway area access points.
Planning Board President Richard Patterson repeatedly asked members of the public who object or support the proposal to address their thoughts and concerns to the governing body, which is proposing the changes.
The next Board of Commissioners meeting is 4 p.m. Thursday, July 2 at Historic City Hall, 1 S. Washington Ave. The agenda for the meeting will be posted on the city’s website, margate-nj.com.
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