McGee property on 22nd Avenue


Dorothy McGee

LONGPORT – Although one commissioner has concerns about the “fairness” of taking two valuable beach-block lots off the tax rolls, the three-member Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to accept them with the conditions imposed by the estate of longtime school board secretary and Garden Club member Dorothy McGee. McGee died in November at age 88 and bequeathed two lots behind her Atlantic Avenue home to the Borough of Longport to be used as a passive public park.

Commissioner Jim Leeds, who heads the Department of Revenue and Finance, said he is not against accepting the lots but expressed concerns about losing what could eventually become a $10 million ratable. He estimated that at that value, each member of the taxpaying community would pay as much as $125 a year to build and maintain the park.

“The kindness of the donation is something I and other residents wish we could do,” Leeds said calling the citizens of Longport “very fortunate.”

“This will be a cost to taxpayers. Some citizens are living on fixed incomes. I’m just trying to be fair to everyone,” he said.

Lots 11.01 and 11.02 in Block 17 have a combined assessment of $3.26 million and generate $35,000 a year in taxes. At their current valuation, taxpayers would pay about $20 a year, Commissioner Dan Lawler said.

The lots, which measure a total of 154 by 100 feet, are buildable according to current zoning regulations, and could easily be gobbled up by wealthy investors to build their McMansions by the sea.

If the borough does not accept the lots, the estate could leave them unimproved for years, which would not generate any additional tax revenue, Solicitor Michael Affanato explained.

Lawler and Mayor Nicholas Russo said that the support from residents to accept the donation was overwhelming. Only one letter was received against it, Lawler said.

The loss of tax revenue and the restrictions imposed by the estate on the use of the lots is “minimal,” Lawler said.

“For what we are getting, it’s a little,” he said.

“Not one person has come to me and said they are against it. Not one. Everyone has been very, very positive. This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Russo said, stating the language of the resolution and Deed of Dedication was “perfect,” and that he would wholeheartedly vote to accept the lots with all the restrictions imposed by the estate. He said he believes nearby properties will experience increased valuation.

Affanato, who negotiated the agreement and has attended meetings with neighbors on 22nd Avenue who expressed interest in financially supporting the park’s construction, outlined the restrictions, which include: a gazebo like the one at the beachfront park at 35th Avenue; a fence around the lots no greater than 3 feet in height; an abundance of flowers, bushes and trees; no hardscaping; and no parking within the park.

“The principal purpose of the park should be an area where people can rest and enjoy a bit of green and fresh air,” the deed states.

If the borough deviates from McGee’s wishes outlined in the deed, the land would revert back to the estate.

The estate will not be responsible for the cost of construction or park maintenance, and “there shall be no plaques erected, attributing improvements or maintenance to individuals or groups as benefactors,” which is a point of contention for Leeds. He would like to see residents purchase memorial benches labeled with the names of the donors like they do at other parks and beach crossovers.

The only recognition given to donors would be that of Dorothy McGee. A “tastefully designed” plaque stating the park was donated by Dorothy Sanders McGee will be the only recognition permitted, the resolution states.

Any donations from the neighbors or community groups for memorial benches or other amenities would have to come “without strings,” Affanato said. “They don’t want her gesture to be watered down between 15 or 16 other donation signs being put in there.”

Additionally, he stated there is no monetary commitment from the neighbors at this time, and that they are seeking a funding mechanism, such as a foundation, or they could donate funds directly to the borough.

A Memorandum of Understanding included as a supplement to the deed states that to comply with public bidding requirements, the borough shall have “a reasonable time” to create the park with construction starting within 24 months. In the event the park is destroyed in a hurricane or other natural disaster, reconstruction would commence within 24 months.

Affanato explained that the borough would still have the opportunity to pass an ordinance on how the park can be used by the public, such as allowing dogs and small receptions or weddings. At first, the estate wanted to impose restrictions on usage in the deed restrictions, but Affanto resisted, he said.

“If one of Dottie’s grandchildren wanted to get married in the park, we would have to say no because it’s deed restricted,” he said.

He also said the borough could forego purchasing title insurance because it is expensive and the “lineage” of the deed is clean. Once the deed is filed with the Atlantic County Clerk’s Office, it will come off the tax rolls.

Preliminary estimates indicate it could cost the borough $100,000 to build the park according to McGee’s specifications, but the borough could apply for a state grant to fund construction. Maintenance would be included in the borough’s annual operating budget.


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Categories: Longport

Nanette LoBiondo Galloway

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