Rendering for proposed development at 7800 Ventnor Ave.


MARGATE – The tide may have turned in granting variances for off-street commercial parking in the city.

The Planning Board Feb. 23 denied variances needed to turn a Chinese restaurant into a mixed used development with commercial on the ground level and four housing units above. After hearing from the public, the board voted 6-1 to deny the applicant the variances needed to build the project.

SAJ Associates, LLC was seeking two variances to build yet a unspecified commercial space on the ground level at 7800 Ventnor Ave., with four, four-bedroom units above. The applicant sought preliminary and final major site plan with variances for exceeding the stated building height – 37.4 feet proposed while 34 feet is required – and on-site parking spaces for the commercial portion of the building – 4 spaces proposed while 14 are required.

The proposed site plan met all the parking requirements needed for the residential portion of the project with nine parking spaces at the rear of the property to be used by residents. Zoning regulations would permit a flat roof at 34 feet, but the extra height was requested to improve the look of the building, the applicant’s attorney said.

The mixed-use building would replace the existing one-story Liang’s Imperial East, which board members referred to as Billy Ho’s place.

SAJ attorney Chris Baylinson said he met with zoning officials several times to refine the plan, which he said would create a sense of place and enhance the commercial business district. The property is located in a busy area across from Bocca Coal Fired Bistro and Greens and Grains, and next door to a bank that is no longer operating.

“This board has always been lenient with commercial parking,” said board President Richard Patterson.

He said that he often fields complaints from residents after variances are granted, although those complaining fail to testify before the board.

“There seems to be more and more problems for what we have approved,” he said. “A change is in the air about the tremendous sizes of the homes. Being lenient hasn’t been working and has caused problems.”

Liang’s Imperial East

Business owner Roz Feldman-Tyman, who received accolades from Gov. Phil Murphy for keeping her store, Jamacian Me Crazy, open during the “darkest days of the pandemic,” said commercial parking in Margate is “a disaster.”

“Bringing in people builds my business, but all I hear is there’s no place to park,” she said. “People cannot navigate through the city to get to retail. We are a Key West now. We have no more land. There is only one thing left to do – buy a seaside trolley to cart asses around town to support your community.”

Feldman-Tyman said her suggestions for the city to purchase land to create public parking has fallen on deaf ears.

Several neighbors who live on N. Douglas Avenue said they already have nowhere to park and that having a new commercial building without on-site parking spaces would exacerbate the problem.

Attorney Eric Goldstein, who often appears before the planning board to obtain variances for property owners, was there to represent several business owners – Bocca, Robert’s, Hot Bagels and Greens and Grains.

A lack of required parking for the commercial portion of the project would “make things worse,” he said.

“With the number of units each having four bedrooms that’s 16 bedrooms,” he said. “The cars have to go someplace,” which would likely be on the street in front of other residents’ homes. Owners of residential properties in the area often park on the street to free up their on-site parking spaces for visitors, he said.

“There may be a future for the project, but as it is now, it’s too much,” he said, asking the board to deny the variances. “There has to be a turning of the tide at some point, and this may be the project that gets the board to pivot.”

Davita Levin, who lives across the street, said Liang’s parking lot was never full because only a few people dined at the restaurant and that most of the business was for takeout.

The lack of commercial parking for the proposed plan is like, “trying to put a stadium inside of a penalty box,” she said.

Resident John Pitts said he believed the plan could be “reworked” to accommodate both residential and commercial uses.

When it came time to vote, Patterson said although the residential portion of the development met all the zoning requirements, including the appropriate number of residential parking spaces, he voted no, agreeing the lack of commercial parking would be too burdensome on the community.

Several other members agreed, stating that allowing more commercial development without parking would hurt existing businesses. Only one board member voted for the project.

Vice-chairman Michael Richmond said he agreed with Feldman-Tyman that businesses are hurting due to a lack of parking.

“There are no commercial spaces left in Margate,” he said.

The measure was defeated 6-1.

The board also discussed the possibility of revising city ordinances to limit residential development on undersized lots to two stories instead of three to avoid building “lighthouses.”

The board asked its attorney to write a letter to the Board of Commissioners to also suggest it consider limiting the enclosed area on the ground level to 300 square feet for storage only. Board members believe eliminating enclosed garages on 25-foot wide lots that many people use for storage instead of parking would help the city’s on-street parking shortage.


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Categories: Margate

Nanette LoBiondo Galloway

Award winning journalist covering news, events and people of Atlantic County for more than 20 years.