By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
VENTNOR – Victoria Avenue residents concerned about plans for the revitalization of the Ventnor Plaza shopping center and the paving of Little Rock Avenue at the rear of their properties will get an informal hearing in January to hash out their grievances.
Only 11 of 33 property owners who live within 200 feet of the shopping center were notified that developer Mark L. Greco’s application was being heard at the Planning Board meeting on Oct. 24. The Planning Board subsequently approved the Decision and Resolution approving Greco’s application on Nov. 9.
Resident Robert Rosenblit waited patiently during a very long Planning Board meeting on Nov. 23 to speak about “a huge mistake” made in notifying neighbors of their right to be heard during the Oct. 24 meeting.
Rosenblit said neighbors learned the project was approved in a story posted on Downbeach.com outlining Greco’s plans for the shopping center, which includes paving Little Rock Avenue, an unimproved roadway at the rear of their properties.
“There was a big mistake made,” Rosenblit told board members, requesting that Greco’s application be reviewed again so the public could weigh-in on their concerns about the project.
“We didn’t get our right to speak at the meeting,” he said.
He asked the board to rescind their decision granting Greco the ability to revitalize the beleaguered 15.4-acre shopping center according to a Redevelopment Plan that was approved in 2019.
Greco is in the process of making renovations to beautify the site, has obtained numerous new tenants and has three pad sites waiting to be built for Burger King, Starbucks, and a yet unnamed restaurant. The plans include extensive landscaping around the entire property, new lighting, signage and raising and repaving the massive parking lot to reduce flooding. The only variance needed was for increasing the size of the monument sign at the main entrance to the plaza on Wellington Avenue.
Although the board stated in its decision that the improvements would “enhance public safety” and have “no substantial negative impact” on the area, residents said paving Little Rock Avenue and creating two driveways with ingress and egress will create safety issues for the residents.
Little Rock Avenue is controlled by a traffic signal at Wellington Avenue near the recently built fire station. Greco will pay for the city to pave the roadway with traffic flowing in both directions to provide access to the Margate side of the strip mall.
Residents said they are concerned about the increased traffic behind their 6-foot tall fences, which are just 10 feet from the street.
“A car exiting the parking lot could go right through our fences,” Rosenblit said.
Another woman said she is excited that the Ventnor Plaza is getting a much needed facelift, “but it shouldn’t interfere with our lives.”
A large group of residents met with Greco at the property on Nov. 10, but after expressing numerous concerns, the meeting did not accomplish what they had hoped.
Residents were worried that the NJ Transit 505 bus would be allowed to use Little Rock Avenue to drop off and pick up passengers.
“That would change our lives forever,” a resident told Greco. “You’re doing a great thing (revitalizing the mall), but it’s affecting our properties.”
Residents also expressed concerns about water runoff into their yards from not only the raised parking lot, but also from paving the roadway.
“Where will all that water go?” a resident asked, suggesting a berm be erected along the property line to absorb stormwater and protect their properties.
Another said headlights from cars exiting the parking lot would shine into their homes and that without a guardrail, a vehicle could easily crash through their fences and land in their backyards.
Greco, who lives in Ventnor, said he wants to “be a good neighbor,” and is willing to listen to the residents about their concerns.
According to Planning Board Secretary Carmella Malfara, the board agreed to hold an informal meeting with Greco and the residents on Jan. 11, 2023.
“The board will reserve an hour for them to ask questions, but the resolution was approved and is set in stone,” she said, although Greco could voluntarily agree to adjust the plan.
Malfara said the developer followed the correct procedure for notification.
“He relied on the list given to him by the tax assessor, which did not generate properly,” she said. “It’s not Greco’s fault, and he said he wants to make everyone happy.”
Notification of the January meeting will be sent out later this week to all residents within 200 feet, Malfara said.
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