5/15/2005

Baby boomers driving redevelopment: (Camden NJ) Courier-Post, 5/15/05

By William Sokolic

Houses for aging baby boomers looking for a second home on the Jersey Shore. A marina, restaurants, upscale retail shops, water sports and fishing.

Coastal communities covet such developments, which are part of ambitious plans to boost tourism in Ventnor, Pleasantville, Wildwood and Somers Point.

And all four towns have turned to a popular tool: They hang their future on redevelopment, something usually associated with efforts to recycle blighted sections of urban centers or older suburban communities.

What has helped is that it has become easier to designate an area for redevelopment. Gone are the days when you required proof of distress to get such a designation.

"Now, all you need is a plan and a good reason to redevelop," said Dr. Richard Perniciaro, director of the Center for Regional and Business Research at Atlantic Cape Community College.

These four municipalities all seek to use redevelopment to capitalize on the growing demand for - and limited supply of - waterfront housing near the shore. "Baby boomers are getting ready to retire, and that's driving the market up and down the shore," Perniciaro said.

Declaring a redevelopment zone allows municipalities to offer tax incentives and abatements to developers.

Although redevelopment has drawn rave reviews for its ability to resuscitate a neighborhood, it can come with a price. To achieve their goals, municipalities must often acquire homes and businesses that do not fit with their plans. And such acquisitions could require the use of eminent domain - the government's right to acquire private land for public use - to force out unwilling owners.

Residents often question the need for revitalization.

Such is the case in Ventnor, the most controversial of the four projects. The city has targeted a 28-acre section of older homes, some mid-rise apartment buildings and a shopping district.

Too many of the buildings are overcrowded and don't meet today's building codes, the city claims.

But the Hispanic Alliance of Atlantic County calls it a form of racial discrimination.

It says the redevelopment effort seeks to eliminate rentals in favor of home ownership and with the higher-end housing proposed, Latinos couldn't afford to buy a new home in Ventnor.

"They'd have to leave town," said Bert Lopez, president of the alliance, which has filed suit to modify, if not stop, the redevelopment proposal. "There's a way of doing redevelopment and improve those buildings in need of repair, and still maintain this as a good working-class neighborhood."

City officials counter they will give financial assistance to displaced residents to help them find other housing in the city.

The redevelopment also affects businesses like the Nashville Market, a grocery bought by Jose Osoria in 2001. Given his druthers, he would stay put rather than be forced to sell and lose money on his investment.

News of the project is also driving away businesses.

A movie theater closed when the landlord pulled the plug in anticipation of having to sell his property. A clothing store folded. Jagielky's Homemade Candies is still around, but owner Mike Carr has opened up in Margate as a hedge.

"The city is still up in the air what to do with me," Carr said. "They talk about relocation, but it will cost a ton to get rid of me."

Mayor Tim Kreischer defends the possible use of eminent domain. "No one will invest in this area without controlling a large portion of the land," he said of developers.

Opposition to the other three redevelopment proposals is not as intense.

The redevelopment area in Pleasantville lies between the old high school and the new marina. It is a mostly vacant neighborhood with a few homes and a wholesale seafood distributor. The city has designated two heavyweights, Edgewood Properties and Toll Brothers, to build homes expected to sell at more than $260,000 each.

"Hopefully we would be able to bring something into the marina as an attraction, like a riverboat shuttle through the Lakes Bay area, some fishing and wind surfing," said Councilman Lincoln Green.

The city wants to keep existing owners as residents. But Michael Giordano of Collingswood worries Toll Brothers will muscle him out of the vacation home he bought on the same street where his grandmother lived for more than 40 years. He and his wife, Patricia, have a vista across the channel to the Atlantic City skyline. He's just steps from the Pleasantville Yacht Club and its new marina. And it's cheaper than Margate or Ocean City.

"I think Pleasantville will take us (through) eminent domain, and then sell to Toll Brothers," Giordano said.

The owner of Randall Seafood, while hoping to stay in the area it has occupied for decades, worries the new residents won't be thrilled by the arrival of trucks at 2 in the morning.

"They want a commercial waterfront, but I do not know if this is what they want," said Al Glenn, owner of the business, which started in 1949. "The city so far made it seem like we would end up staying in the area. But I heard rumors of using eminent domain."

Wildwood selected a top developer, K. Hovnanian, to build in an area of the city fast becoming popular for housing because it's one of the few locations where land is available. Townhouses surrounding the Hovnanian site are selling for as much as $500,000.

"It's consistent with our company philosophy to look for redevelopment opportunities in areas where we think the market is good," said Lew Kurland, legal counsel for the Red Bank-based company.

Realtors in the area praise the proposal. But at least one property owner believes Hovnanian is squashing his plans to build 22 townhouses, valued at $400,000 each. Robert Wood said if the city denies him a permit to build, he expects the developer to pay him for the land.

Somers Point is focusing as much on retail and restaurants as residential housing in the first phase of a four-pronged proposal revolving around Bay Avenue, once home to legendary rock clubs like Tony Marts and Bayshores.

"The overall vision is to have a resort-oriented development," Councilman Carmen Marotta said.

But phase one has run into opposition from Shore Memorial Hospital, which owns much of the land targeted. The hospital has its own ideas, some of which conform to the city's plans and some that don't. The impasse has led to legal action, which may lead to negotiations for a compromise.

To date, none of the projects has broken ground. Concerns about the environment and, to a lesser degree, acquisitions, have held up plans in Wildwood and Pleasantville.

Somers Point has to resolve its conflict with the hospital to move forward. Ventnor is faced with the outstanding lawsuit.

And all are watching for the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on the legality of eminent domain in New London, Conn., where residents of a working-class neighborhood have sued city officials who want their properties for a hotel, offices and luxury condominiums. A decision is expected before the court recesses in June.


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