November 30, 2005

Fire destroys their businesses, not their spirit

Staff Writer
WILDWOOD – The holiday parade was scheduled to pass the Zuccarello’s house on Central Avenue last Friday evening, bringing with it Santa Claus and a special gift, an engagement ring to be presented by Sal Zuccarello to Lauren Belasco.
“Sal had a whole thing planned,” his father, Anthony said, but the devastating fire that burned at the Shore Plaza, at 26th Avenue and the Boardwalk, changed those plans.
Instead of participating in the parade, fire trucks - festooned with strings of red and green lights - surrounded the family’s businesses - Sam’s Pizza and the Shore Plaza Motel. And fire fighters battled most of the weekend to bring the blaze under control.
The parade was cancelled, and Santa didn’t come on Friday night, but amid the chaos and uncertainty, the Sal and his fiancĂ©, buoyed by their family’s support, made a promise to look toward the future.
“I think it shows the resolve of the Zuccarello and Spera families,” said family friend John Lynch, who attended an impromptu gathering at the Zuccarello’s home on the night of the fire. People from the community stopped by throughout the evening to show support for the family, Lynch said, and to congratulate Sal and Lauren on their engagement.
Anthony Zuccarello said that his father-in-law and family patriarch, 77-year old Sam Spera, who purchased the family business at the Shore Plaza in 1979, had insisted that the couple move forward with their plans.
“Sam said we have to move on,” Zuccarello said. “I guess it gave us something good to focus on.”
“Out of a bad situation, there was something happy still,” Lynch said. “And you know what, it really says a lot about the family that with all they had to worry about, the only concern they had all night was with the safety of the firemen.”
The blaze burned for more than 24 hours, challenging at least 12 local fire companies to keep it under control, according to Wildwood mayor and fireman, Ernie Troiano.
“It was one of the toughest fires we had in a long time,” Troiano said. “It started in one little spot, and moved throughout the duct work quickly. It was a very stubborn fire.”
Lynch said that firemen that he spoke with told him the blaze was the toughest fire they had ever fought.
“And some of them had fought the fire at the Starlite Ballroom (in 1981),” he said.
Zuccarello said that initial investigations seemed to indicate that the fire started in the motor of a heater in a third floor motel unit on the west side of the building.
“We never expected it to spread the way it did,” he said.
But Troiano said that a combination of high winds and air moving through the duct work made it an unpredictable and seemingly endless fight.
In the end the building could not be saved.
“There were a couple incidents where the fire blew out. We were very lucky no one was seriously hurt.” Troiano said.
Throughout the two-day ordeal fire and rescue workers responded from Wildwood, North Wildwood, Wildwood Crest, West Wildwood, Cape May, West Cape May, Stone Harbor, Rio Grande, Green Creek, Town Bank, Erma, Ocean City, Upper Township, Belleplain and Petersburg. Several firefighters were treated for minor injuries on the scene in an emergency tent set up by AlantiCare and at Burdette Tomlin Hospital.
Troiano said he was touched by what he called “an unbelievable outpouring of support” from businesses and local residents, who brought food and hot beverages to fire fighters throughout the weekend. And Marty Shapiro opened up his arcade, Gateway 26, to cold and wet workers so they would have a place to warm up from the frigid temperatures.
Zuccarello said that he and his family were grateful for the support of the community and for the hard work of the over two hundred fire and rescue workers who battled the blaze.
“Everybody wants to help,” Zuccarello said.
On Sunday, when the fire had finally burned out, many of the fire companies who fought the blaze participated in the island’s rescheduled Christmas parade. As they passed the Zuccarello’s house on Central Avenue, they were greeted by a huge sign, thanking them for their efforts.
“We are so grateful,” Zuccarello said.
The family plans to rebuild Sam’s Pizza as quickly as possible, though they are still working out the details. Zuccarello said that he and his brother-in-law Tony Spero are in ongoing discussions on how to go about the project.
“We talk about what we can do to make the pizza place better when we redo it,” he said, but rebuilding both the pizza parlor and the motel will likely take years.
They are looking into getting the pizza place up and running and taking a longer-term approach to the motel property, which is run by Zuccarello’s wife Rosemary and his sister and brother-in-law, Rita and Steve Szczur.
“Sam wants to be open tomorrow,” Zuccarello said.
Troiano said the city will do what ever it can to expedite the permitting and approval process.
“We want to help,” he said.
Lynch, who works as the marketing director of the Wildwood’s Convention Center, wonders what he will do when Sam’s Pizza is not there for his daily lunch stop.
“It’s my hang out,” he said.
For him, as for so many local residents and visitors, the restaurant is an institution they have relied on for decades.
“It was just as much of a landmark as the Starlite Ballroom,” Lynch said. “It will be tough on the community, but this community is great at bouncing back.”
Zuccarello knows the people are counting on his family to rebuild.
“It’s a tradition, you know, like Santa Claus comes at Christmas,” he said.
And Santa did stop by the Zuccarellos this Christmas season. At the end of the rescheduled Christmas parade on Sunday, Santa made a stop to congratulate Sal and his fiancé on their engagement. He presented them with Christmas gifts from Lynch, photo albums of the night of their engagement and wishes for many happy new years.

Waypoint project shot down again

Staff Writer
WILDWOOD – After six months of deliberation and appeals, the zoning board again withheld approval for the 23-story Waypoint Beach Club project, which was proposed by developer Larry Howard to replace The Binns and Bonito motels on Ocean Avenue between Spenser and Spicer avenues. Submitted plans for the DooWop-style condotel included 185 residential units and 114 motel units, a five-story parking garage, a ballroom, retail space and restaurants.
The plans came before the board again on Monday, Nov. 28 after Howard’s attorney Stephan Nehmad appealed the board’s decision to withhold approval for the project, contending that board member, William Mitchell, had a conflict of interest.
Nehmad asked the board to discard Mitchell’s negative vote because his wife, Mary Mitchell, had spoken against the project at a public hearing in September.
The board voted unanimously to discard Mitchell’s vote and to vote on the project again.
In the mean time, two board members stepped down, and two more appointments were made. Paul Reidenbach’s request for a leave of absence was just accepted by commissioners on Wednesday, and alternate board member Dan Fleming, who had voted for the project in Sept. moved into his seat.
Architect, Todd Kieninger replaced Richard Osman in September. As a result, he was asked to listen to tapes of the testimony on the project so that he could participate in the re-vote.
Residents of Spencer Avenue attended Monday’s meeting with their attorney Brock Russell, though they were not permitted to testify.
Zoning board attorney William Kaufman said that no further testimony would be taken on the project.
“That is the chairman’s (Raymond McGrath) ruling,” he told Russell. “You and Mr. Nehmad had ample time to speak.”
Because of laws regarding zoning use variances, the seven member board needed to approve the project with a five vote majority. The project only received four of the necessary votes in September.
Variances were requested for height, building coverage, lot coverage, floor area ratio (density) and setbacks. The allowable building coverage in the hotel zone is 75 percent; the proposed Waypoint project covered 86.8 percent. The allowable lot coverage is 80 percent; the impervious surface on the proposed project was 89 percent.
The six board members who voted in September did not change their mind in the interim. Four board members: McGrath, Steve Lerario, Dennis Krause and Dan Fleming voted for the project. Dorothy Gannon reinstated her belief that the project needed too many variances.
“Somewhere along the line we need to comply with the ordinances,” she said.
Board member Elaine Biliris, who cast the deciding vote in September, restated her opposition to the project with greater conviction the second time around.
“There is no rear yard to speak of. There is no front yard either. The building is too big,” she said. She expressed displeasure with the appeal and the need for the re-vote.
“There is no reason for me to change my vote,” she said.
All eyes were on Kieninger cast the final and deciding vote.
“It’s a fantastic design – very elegant. But it is too tall for this property,” Kieninger said, expressing his belief that building of this size were better suited for Ocean Avenue and in the vicinity of the convention center. “I vote ‘no,’” he said.
Some of the Spencer Avenue neighbors had come expecting the worst, and they were pleasantly surprised.
“I am thrilled to death,” said Michael DellaVella, who owns a condominium in the Rising Sun complex that directly abuts the site, proposed for the project.
“I am extremely surprised,” he said. Original plans for the project included a six story wall to be built four inches from their property line, and Della Vella and his neighbors have been fighting approval of the project from when they learned of the application in June.
DellaVella and his neighbors have expressed frustration with the project and the approval process from the onset. He was notified of the developer’s plans by a neighbor just a few days before the public hearing. As the result of a bureaucratic glitch, he and the other residents received no written notice, as required by law.
Many missed the first public hearing on the project and were told initially that they had missed their chance to speak. Eventually, they were allowed to voice their opposition to the board.
“Wildwood has not welcomed us here,” DellaVella said. “It has not accepted us as neighbors or as friends.”
DellaVella contends that the recently reconfigured motel zone, allows for high rises to be built too close to new residential developments, compromising residents’ quality of life and property values. He is considering selling his condo.
In spite of that, he is jubilant, and invited his neighbors to steak dinner following the vote.
“When they reshuffled the deck,” he said, referring to the changes on the board, “We thought it was over. This is great.”
He expects that a new application will be submitted in the future, and he and his neighbors vow to fight anything that does not conform to the zoning laws.
“No matter what, I am dedicated to this fight,” he said.

Maureen L. Cawley can be e-mailed at or you can comment on this story by calling 624-8900, ext. 250.

Residents may find no more rooms at the inn

Staff Writer
WILDWOOD – With Christmas just around the corner, some residents might soon find out there is no room at the Inn – or at least at the motels where they are now living.
An ordinance introduced by commissioners here last Wednesday limits the duration of stays in the city’s hotels and motels. The proposed law stipulates: "No transient visitor can occupy a hotel, motel or multiple dwelling establishment for more than 30 days, nor can said transient extend their stay for longer than 30 days by moving into another unit within the same establishment."
“A motel unit is not designed for year-round occupancy,” Mayor Ernie Troiano said.
Nonetheless, the rising cost of rent has forced many low income residents into motels and boarding houses. Some use propane heaters and others use prohibited combination heat and air conditioning units, Troiano said.
“These people deserve to live in some sort of comfort and these motels are not designed to do that,” he said.
If passed, the ordinance would require motel owners to maintain a registry of all occupants, including a record of each guest’s permanent address and the date that the “occupancy commenced.” Motel visitors will also be required to show a drivers license or other photo ID to be kept on file during their stay, according to the proposed ordinance.
Troiano acknowledges that many of the city’s motel and boarding house residents can not afford more suitable housing, but he said the current situation is unacceptable and often causes public safety issues, including increased crime.
“It also has a tremendous impact on the school system,” he said.
Many of the motel residents pay for their stays with housing vouchers from Cape May County.
In addition to the vouchers, Wildwood also accepts section 8 housing, Troiano said.
“The county’s been using Wildwood as their base to send people for years. You name it, we took it,” Troiano said.
Many of the city’s boarding houses and motels have been demolished to make way for new development, Troiano said, and the ones that are left are unsuitable for long-term stays.
The lack of suitable housing is an issue that BLANK knows a lot about. Nardi, Miller Smith
The city’s food pantries specifically ask for donations of “heat and eat” items because many of their clients are limited to preparing meals in a microwave.
What will happen to residents when their length of stay is up?
“I think that is the county’s responsibility,” Troiano said. “Homelessness is a situation that the county has got to start addressing.”
The new regulations would apply to hotels, motels and multiple dwelling establishments, but Troiano said he was uncertain how the new regulations would affect the proposed condotels, which are a hybrid of individually-owned condominiums and hotel units.
The length of stay restrictions would apply to units in the condotels that are designated strictly as motel rooms, Troiano said, but the cost of these rooms would make it unlikely that people would use them for long-term stays.
“I really don’t think that will be a problem in these places,” he said.
As for the impact of the ordinance on condominium stays, Troiano said he was looking into it.
The Department of Community Affairs (DCA) defines hotels as any building “which contains ten or more dwelling units or has sleeping facilities for 25 persons and is kept, used, maintained advertised…as a place where sleeping or dwelling accommodations are available to guests.”
A multiple dwelling unit is defined in part as “any building…in which three or more dwelling units are occupied or intended to be occupied by three or more persons living independently of each other.
Transient is defined as a stay of not more than 90 days by a person who has a residence elsewhere.
“We want to control the types of housing that are in our community,” Troiano said.
Commissioners are scheduled to vote on the ordinance and to hear public comment on it at their next meeting on Dec. 14.

Maureen L. Cawley can be e-mailed at or you can comment on this story by calling 624-8900, ext. 250.

November 22, 2005

Wildwood schools report all A’s for district

Staff Writer
WILDWOOD – It’s report card time. And while students across the island are finding out how they are doing in school this year, the Wildwood school board is measuring the district’s progress since the new administration was hired last year.
“So much is going on,” Superintendent Dennis Anderson said, and the reports presented at last Wednesday’s meeting bear this out.
High School Principal Gladys Lauriello reported that the district’s Web site and the high school newspaper are up and running. And the new band is making strides.
“They will be performing in community events over the holidays,” Lauriello said, and they will be marching in the Christmas parade.
“I’ve been listening to Jingle Bells and Feliz Navidad already,” she said.
And if that didn’t put her in the holiday spirit, Lauriello received an early Christmas gift this year, as well. From now on, she will be Dr. Lauriello. She received her doctorate in education from Wilmington College this fall.
“I’m certainly very excited to be done,” she said.
Susan Rohrman, the school’s new supervisor of curriculum and instruction, was hired this summer, but she is already making strides toward streamlining the district’s curriculum and coordinating with neighboring schools, she told the board.
Regular meetings have been scheduled for the first Thursday of every month so that Rohrman can sit down with representatives from the Wildwood Crest and North Wildwood districts to work at getting all three district on the same page in regard to curriculum.
“We will be using the same format for our curriculum guides,” Rohrman said.
Anderson said that one of the first thing he talked about with the school board when he was hired in February was the need for the district to tighten it’s curriculum.
“I told them it was something we needed to get a firm grasp of,” he said. “(Rohrman) is really doing a wonderful job.”
Anderson says the district is working at greater “articulation” of the curriculum. That’s education lingo for “sharing expertise across the districts,” he said.
In December, Rohrman will hold a workshop for writing teachers from all three districts on curriculum mapping.
“It’s really important that we are all talking to each other because (Wildwood is) the receiving district,” she said. She said she is working at articulating curriculum “horizontially” between schools at each grade level and “vertically” smoothing the transition from grade to grade. That way ninth-grade students who enter Wildwood High from all three sending districts will be starting high school with the same basic educational background.
“It’s an ongoing process,” Anderson said.
School board members Sandra Richardson, Tony Totah and Gary DeMarzo toured the district’s schools earlier this month to see how things were running, and they reported they were pleased with what they saw.
“I was very impressed,” Richardson said. “The buildings were well maintained. The classrooms were orderly. (The district) is doing a great job. Every facet was well-done.”
Auditor Glenn Ortman made a presentation to the board regarding the audit of this year’s school budget, as well.
“The findings last year were all corrected,” Ortman said, and only two recommendations were made regarding the deposit of food service revenue.
“I want to thank (board secretary) Sandy Becker for her outstanding job on the accounting,” board member David McDonald said.
Three new board members -- Carol Bannon, David Wertman and Todd Keininger --
were sworn in at the start of Wednesday’s meeting. They are replacing departing board President Kerry Higgs and board members Sandra Miller and Brian Evans. The new members joined the board just in time to begin the New Jersey School Board certification process.
The board voted to pursue certification in June, and as part of that process a field representative from the New Jersey School Board Association will come to the district on a regular basis to give the workshops on various topics including: relationships, policy, curriculum, finance, school law, labor relations and board operations. The first class was held after the regular school board session on Wednesday evening. The next class is scheduled for January.
“The new folks that have joined the (school) board have blended nicely,” Anderson said.
“The (faculty) is doing a great job jumping on board. I’m extremely pleased. Our students are great. Our teachers are outstanding. Every single day we are getting better and improving. That’s what I’m proud of.”

Maureen L. Cawley can be e-mailed at or you can comment on this story by calling 624-8900, ext. 250.

Crest to developers: Slow down move too fast
Staff Writer
WILDWOOD CREST – The newest change to the borough’s land use law is an ordinance designed to slow things down. The amendment is one in a series of changes made to zoning and land use policies and procedures in recent months.
The ordinance introduced on Nov.9 by Commissioner Don Cabrera and Mayor Carl Groon requires that site plans be submitted 45 days before they are considered by the borough’s planning board. Currently plans must be in the planning board office 25 days before the monthly planning board meeting.
“The idea is to slow down the process,” Groon said. “We want to give the engineer and the planning board time to review (the plans).”
A work session, where representatives of the planning board meet with developers to review submitted plans, is held every month prior to the planning board meeting. The new ordinance will give applicants more time to respond to the boards’ recommendations before presenting them for approval at the hearing later in the month.
“It gives the architects time to make changes,” Groon said.
The plan was first introduced as a resolution by the planning board at its meeting on Nov. 3. It passed unanimously on Monday, Nov. 21.
Borough clerk Kevin Yecco said that the change to the application process was needed to ensure that professional staff, engineers, lawyer and zoning officers have time to review plans before they are considered by the board as a whole.
“The mayor feels strongly that the engineer needs to be included in considering the plans,” Yecco said, “especially considering the volume of applications in recent months.”
Commissioners also introduced a new fee schedule that increases the cost of filing plans with the planning board. A 5 percent fee will be assessed to pay for the review of plans and applications by engineers and attorneys who are hired for that purpose.
This summer, Groon created an office on the second floor of borough hall to deal specifically with code enforcement and land use issues. Linda Adams, a full-time clerk was hired this fall to field calls and direct inquiries through the proper channels.
“We needed a presence in city hall,” Groon said.
Adams is expected to replace planning board secretary Darlene Devlin when she resigns in December.
“That is my recommendation,” Groon said, “but that is at the discretion of the (planning and zoning) boards.”
Devlin will continue to work full time in the finance department as the borough’s purchasing agent.
Elizabeth Terenick was hired as the borough’s new zoning official when Mike Preston retired earlier this year, and planning board member Bob Cashioli was hired as the assistant zoning official to do inspections of sites where work is ongoing to be sure that the construction occurs to land use laws and approved plans.
The borough also made land use laws and a zoning map available to its residents at, as well as a downloadable version. Visitors can download an application for a zoning permit there as well.
The next step in improving enforcement of the borough’s land use policies is in the discussion stages, Yecco said.
Commissioners are considering hiring attorneys who specialize in land use matters to organize and complete the borough’s land use document. The master plan which was completed and adopted this fall did not cover all zoning areas of the borough.
In addition, the complete land use document has not been indexed, Yecco said. And the governing body wants to make sure that there are no discrepancies between existing law and the provisions made in the new master plan, he said.
It needs to be cleaned up, Yecco said.
They would be brought in “to look at the document as a whole,” he said. “The idea is to take what has changed (in the document) with the adoption of the master plan and to make sure the document is consistent.”

Maureen L. Cawley can be e-mailed at or you can comment on this story by calling 624-8900, ext. 250.

Marina Bay Tower residents get Van Drew's support

Van Drew pledges support for Marina Bay Towers
NORTH WILDWOOD -- Assemblyman Jeff Van Drew is giving his full support to the residents of Marina Bay Towers, a senior citizen affordable housing building here, in their effort to obtain New Jersey Housing Mortgage Finance Agency (HMFA) action to stave off potential eviction from their apartments.
“I am pleased the residents have persuaded the HMFA to sit down with them, their attorney and other parties in this situation, including several legal experts retained by the building developer, to resolve this matter as soon as possible,” said Van Drew, who visited the residents earlier in November. “I came away persuaded that we need to find a path to action that will assure these senior citizens that they will be able to stay in their apartments.
“This situation arises from a complicated series of business and legal decisions and transactions but it is really a simple human situation that comes down to this: These senior citizens have earned the right to be in their homes without fear that they may one day face eviction. I will be with them all the way to the day that fear is removed.”
Marina Bay Towers Tenant Association President Joseph Bakanowsky, a retired U.S. Marine Corps drill instructor and retired casino industry worker, said, “We appreciate the support of Assemblyman Van Drew. We need the support of all of our state and federal legislators to get this situation resolved so we can have peace of mind in our homes.”
Marina Bay Towers is a 143-unit affordable senior citizen bayside, waterfront building with 200 residents who must be at least 62 years of age to be tenants. There is a waiting list of 650 senior citizens for units in the building. Residents have annual incomes between $15,000 a year and $21,000 a year.
Originally financed with $14 million in HMFA low income housing tax credits – the HMFA is New Jersey program administrator for the federal Internal Revenue Service, which allocates the credits among the 50 states each year – the building had to be totally rehabilitated before occupancy because of unforeseen problems.
Problems included damage from a major northeastern storm in 1998, Hurricane Floyd in 1999, faulty construction of modular units, and delay caused by the damage and by a three-year environmental permitting process.
The rehabilitation added $11 million to the cost. The developer, Rubicon Companies of West Orange, has a new financing plan combining additional housing tax credits and tax-exempt bond financing that has the approval of the IRS.
But, despite the fact that the plan obtained IRS approval in 2003, the HMFA called in an outside law firm in 2005 that gave advice counter to the approval and to advice given by several leading national experts retained by Rubicon –- including the current chief counsel of the IRS, who Rubicon had engaged before he took on his public position.
Van Drew said, “The residents went to the HMFA last week and got a pledge from the agency that it will hold the meeting. I urge the HMFA to keep an open mind and to do everything in its power to resolve this matter in a timely fashion and in a manner that serves the interests of these senior citizens.”
Noting he will pay close attention to the results of the meeting, the assemblyman said, “The right thing to do is for that meeting to find a path that will satisfy the authority and at the same time remove the threats of foreclosure and potential eviction hanging over the building and the residents, who have my full support.”

GWTIDA announces new initiatives

Authority hoping for an IMG Beach Bash

Merci, Canadians, says GWTIDA
Staff Writer
WILDWOOD -- Merci and Bienvenue. Thank you for visiting The Wildwoods, and please come back. That’s the message the Greater Wildwoods Tourism and Improvement and Development Authority (GWTIDA) sent to Canadian visitors this week.
They placed full-color French-language advertisements in two of Canada’s largest newspapers to say “merci” to America’s northern neighbors for visiting the Wildwoods in record-breaking numbers this summer.
“And we’re hoping they come back,” said GWTIDA’s marketing director, Ben Rose.
For years Wildwood was a tradition among the Quebecois, who were lured south by the miles of free beaches and family entertainment.
Then for several years the numbers were down, Rose said.
But this past summer anecdotal evidence collected from the Wildwoods Hotel Motel Association and the Cape May County Campground Owners Association showed sharp increases in Canadian tourists.
“We wanted them to know how much we appreciate them coming back,” Rose said.
The “thank you” advertisement lists an 800 number and an Internet address where visitors can begin to plan next summer’s vacation. Feedback from the ads will allow GWTIDA to track visitors. They will monitor how many requests for information packets are requested as the result of the Canadian marketing campaign.
Marketing efforts in Canada by GWTIDA and the county tourism department seem to be working, and the favorable exchange rate doesn’t hurt either, Rose said.
Throughout the winter, GWTIDA will be working on a number of other initiatives aimed at attracting old and new visitors to town next summer. These include marketing and advertising, as well as planning tourism events.
Plans are in the works to install signs on the overpass at Route 47, near Garden State Parkway exits 4a and 4b to greet and thank visitors as they travel to and from The Wildwoods. Assemblyman Jeff Van Drew has expressed support for the idea, and he has promised to help GWTIDA navigate the New Jersey Department of Transportation approval process, according to the minutes from a GWTIDA meeting in October.
Rose has already submitted a list of proposed slogans for the sign to the GWTIDA board for consideration. A decision is expected to made soon. GWTIDA is hoping to have the signs installed by this summer, Rose said.
“I have to tell you I am very excited for next year,” board member Ralph Johnson told the GWTIDA board at its monthly meeting last Thursday. Johnson was on the committee that determined which tourism events in The Wildwoods would receive funding in 2006.
He said that allocating GWTIDA’s $550,000 events budget required some tough decision-making.
“We never seem to have enough money to fund everything we want to fund,” he said, “but we did what we think is right.”
A list of 25 approved tourism events were presented to the board. The events that will receive funding include newcomers like the second annual Maui’s Salty Potato Ball Eating Contest on June 16 and the Wildwood’s Block Party on Aug. 27. $20,000 was approved to support the island’s first ’60s weekend on April 28-30. Tentative plans for that weekend feature appearances by performers like Herman’s Hermits, The Playboys and Davy Jones of the Monkees.
The 12th annual North Wildwood Italian-American Reunion, scheduled for the weekend of June 23, received $15,000 in funding. As was reported in The Wildwood Leader last month, The Sons of Italy are planning on sponsoring another Italian festival on the same date, but they have not received GWTIDA funding.
Long-time summer traditions like the Fourth of July Fireworks Extravaganza, the Captain Kidd Weekend, and the National Marbles Tournament will also be funded. The reincarnated Wildwoods Baby Parade will take place again this year on July 20 and is receiving $2,500 in funding.
The 13th annual Classic Car Show is scheduled for the weekend of Sept. 21, and is receiving $7,500 in funding, in spite of concerns voiced by Wildwood Mayor Ernie Troiano over the rowdy behavior of visitors during this years event.
GWTIDA has set aside nearly a 20 percent - $150,000 - of its events funding budget in hopes of securing the East Coast IMG Beach Bash. The sports marketing firm IMG sponsors a beach bash festival in California every year, featuring extreme sports competitions and concerts. The event brings up to 400,000 visitors to Huntington Beach, Rose said.
“They did a satellite search and determined Wildwood (with its huge beaches) was an ideal location for an East Coast event,” Rose said.
A surfing competition is part of the California event, but in New Jersey it would be replaced by a skim boarding competition. Other extreme sports events would include a BMX bike race, skateboarding and beach volleyball. The tentative date for the event is the weekend of July 7-9.
The fee charged to host the event is $150,000, and GWTDA is holding that amount in reserve while IMG lobbies for corporate sponsorship. They are looking for one big title sponsor to pay $400,000 or four smaller co-sponsors who may want to split the cost.
Rose said representatives met with WCAU/NBC Channel 10 and KYW/CBS Channel 3, and both broadcasters had expressed interest in televising the event if it happens.
Organizers expect the first East Coast event could bring more than 100,000 visitors and contestants to The Wildwoods over that weekend.
“It’s all contingent upon IMG getting a title sponsor,” Rose said. “If they don’t get one this year, we’ll continue to work on it for next year.

Maureen L. Cawley can be e-mailed at or you can comment on this story by calling 624-8900, ext. 250.

Millers’ time to relax

Curtis and Sandra Miller are spending less time in Wildwood lately. The couple have worked for more than two decades serving the needy here. Now they are hoping to officially begin their retirement in Sumter, S.C., before Christmas.

Staff Writer
WILDWOOD – In the Air Force, they call it a PCS – a Permanent Change of Station. And that’s what Curtis and Sandra Miller are calling their move to Sumter, S.C. after two decades of service in Cape May County.
“It’s the longest time we’ve stayed in one place,” Sandra said. “It’s time for a change.”
Their partnership began 31 years ago in California, where they met on an Air Force base, where Curtis was stationed and Sandra worked as a civilian employee.
Curtis, a Wildwood native, joined the Air Force in 1956 on what he calls the grandmother plan.
“I quit school and (my grandmother) signed me up,” he said.
“It didn’t hurt him one bit,” his wife says.
While enlisted, Curtis got his GED and became a jet engine mechanic. He was later certified in defense race relations and worked as a human relations instructor, focusing on drug and alcohol education.
“I think the military offers people who don’t have means a chance,” he said.
You can get an education and get out and still have a second career, he said. “I got out at 37.”
When Curtis retired from Air Force, Sandra moved to Wildwood with him.
And since then both Millers have worked tirelessly at providing services to low-income residents of Wildwood and Cape May County.
Curtis’s military experience and knowledge of the region made him ideally qualified to head up Cape Human Resources (CHR), an organization dedicated to assisting the county’s low-income residents.
As head of that agency, he’s helped provide food and heating assistance to countless local residents. He served on Wildwood’s council for 10 years, and over the years he’s worked with numerous organizations, whose goals aligned with those of CHR. These included: the Salvation Army, The American Cancer Society, South Jersey Health Systems, Atlantic County Community College’s Minority Affairs Committee and the Civil Air Patrol.
But Curtis is quick to say he hasn’t done it alone.
“I’ve been his Girl Friday,” Sandra teases.
Curtis says his wife helped out whenever she was needed. Much of the work they’ve done has depended on the commitment of other volunteers, Curtis said. His approach to getting help is a simple one, modeled after the military recruiters he’s seen in action. You assume consent, he says.
He demonstrates by nodding like a bobblehead doll and saying, “You want to sign up, don’t you?”
“We’ve always gotten help when we needed it,” he said.
“My job has mostly been to support him,” Sandra said, but she has followed her own path as well, working as a social worker for the county and on Wildwood’s school board for seven years.
“That was an education for me,” she said. “I will miss it.”
Sandra said she believes the current administration is making strides toward improving the education system here, but added, “There’s always room for improvement.”
The Miller’s work in the community has allowed them to see the best and the worst in people, they say.
“People make bad choices,” Curtis said, “and create a need for themselves sometimes.”
That part of the job is discouraging, but the work can be rewarding as well.
“Once in while, you open a letter (that says you’ve helped),” Curtis said.
He keeps a box of “thank you” notes on a shelf.
“One thank you can overcome 500 of the other type,” he said.
The community has changed a lot since Curtis was young, he said.
“This was a great place to grow up,” he said, remembering the train that pulled in on Andrews Avenue and the famous African American entertainers who performed in local clubs. He lists two dozen of them including: The Red Caps, Lionel Hampton, The Treniers, Freddy Bell and The Bellboys, and The Platters.
“Have you heard of Dizzy Gillespie?” he asks. “I saw him once, here. I was standing on my bicycle, looking through the window of the Club Esquire watching him play.”
A placard from the former Club Esquire sits by the door to his office. Miller said he will donate it to the Wildwood Historical Society before he leaves.
“Everybody looked out for everybody then,” Curtis said.
There wasn’t day care, but he and his friends were directed by their parents to check in with the black lifeguards on Garfield Avenue.
“They looked after us all day,” he said. “The same families lived here. The same families visited. People worked two jobs and sat on the porch at night and talked.”
In recent years the price of housing has forced many residents out.
“If you are low income, you better be on your way out,” Curtis said, “because you can’t afford the rents.”
The Millers say that their decision to leave Wildwood was only partially financial. They own two homes in Wildwood, which are currently up for sale.
“I could afford to stay. I don’t want to afford it,” he said. “I don’t want to pay the taxes.”
Curtis said a highlight of their years in Wildwood was raising their family, attending Little League football games, soccer games and high school basketball games.
“It was the wildest ride,” he said.
Their four oldest children are spread out across the United States from California to Pennsylvania, but their youngest daughter, Marie, a graduate of Wildwood High, attends college near Sumter, so they expect to see more of her there. They are planning on spending Thanksgiving together, and they are hoping to be permanently settled in their new home by Christmas.
Many of the Millers’ new neighbors in South Carolina are old military friends, Curtis said. So the move is in many ways a homecoming.
“(Wildwood) is a non-military community, so sometimes it seems we have little in common with a whole lot of folks here,” Sandra said.
Curtis added, “If you live here and you are poor, you have a problem. In the military, we take care of everything and everybody. Maybe that’s what made us good at the jobs we did here. Maybe it made us compassionate enough to want to help.”
Sandra agreed, and added, “I’ve come to know a lot of good people county-wide. I’ll miss them.”
Curtis said his replacement at CHR, Felicia Smith, was going to do a fine job continuing his work.
“She’ll be an excellent replacement,” he said. “It’s time for other people to take over and to give back to the community.”
Curtis said there are many here that he will miss.
“It’s been a hell of a ride,” he said.

November 16, 2005

NW beach replenishment scheduled for next summer

Staff Writer
NORTH WILDWOOD – Five years ago, lifeguards drove elderly and disabled beach-goers about 100 yards from their headquarters on 15th Avenue and JFK Boulevard to the water’s edge, Beach Chief Tony Cavalier said.
They don’t need to do that anymore.
Today the distance from the foot of beach patrol headquarters to the ocean at high tide is 20 twenty feet, and shrinking every year.
For the second consecutive year in a row the city has laid a knee-high concrete blockade across the sand in front of the beach house to protect it from the pounding surf. But it’s a temporary solution and not always effective.
“When we had the Nor’easter (last month), the water came all the way up to the deck,” Cavalier said.
That storm came ashore here on Oct. 26 and was fueled, in part, by Hurricane Wilma.
“We’ve lost 100 to 150 feet of beach since the end of the summer,” City Council President Patrick Rosenello said, “and that’s just the beginning.”
Though hurricane season ends in November, the season for beach-eroding Nor’easters extends into April. The solution, city officials believe, is a long-awaited beach replenishment project.
At a council meeting last week, Rosenello announced the wait may soon be over.
Rosenello, retiring Mayor Aldo Palombo and Mayor-elect Bill Henfey met with U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo and representatives from the Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers last week to hammer out a solution to the seawall project, and they came away with more than they bargained for.
In regard to the seawall project, Rosenelo said, “We had a very good meeting. We are working toward a final agreement between everybody.”
The seawall agreement is expected to include solutions to issues of beach access and the aesthetics of the wall, particularly at the municipal parking lot near the now-demolished Moore’s Inlet. It could include railings at access points and a 10-foot walkway, Rosenello said.
“We’ll be able to talk more about it once the final decisions are made,” Henfey said. “I think everybody’s going to be pleased.”
In addition, city officials said that they were pleased that a beach replenishment project, which had been previously discussed as a possibility for the spring of 2007 will happen ahead of schedule.
“With regard to beach replenishment,” Rosenello said. “I believe we have a commitment from the DEP to fast track (the project).”
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that project is tentatively scheduled to take place during the summer of 2006, and the project will cause some beach closings throughout the summer.
“It’s either that or to wait until the spring of 2007,” Henfey said. “If we have to deal with a little inconvenience, it’s worth it.”
Rosenello agrees. He said a maximum of three to five blocks of beach will be closed for a couple days at a time, throughout the work period, which is yet unspecified.
Rosenello described the beach replenishment as a “major, major project.” It will include 400 feet of new dunes to replace the ones that have eroded in recent years. When completed, the project should look much like the new dune system on the southern end of Stone Harbor with dunes rising to an elevation of eight feet as a protection against the tide, he said.
The city will pay 25 percent of the cost of the project and the state will pay 75 percent. The figures are not firm yet, but Rosenello said the city has about $9 million earmarked for the project.
“We’ve had a majority of the money set aside for years,” he said. But, he added, that as the beach continues to diminish, the cost increases.
Beach Chief Cavalier believes the fast-tracked project is good news for the city.
“We really need it,” he said.
The bayberry bushes that have the lined the walkways to the beach for years are being overtaken by the tides. They are completely gone from in front of the Boardwalk, Cavalier said.
In addition, the water now rushes under Sportland Pier, at 23rd Avenue.
“You can’t get even get around there at high tide now,” he said.
If the problem is not addressed, city officials know that diminishing beaches will eventually have an impact on tourism.
At North Wildwood’s tourism meeting on Thursday, volunteers worked on the calendar for next year’s events with an eye toward how beach erosion could affect their plans.
The Elk’s Annual Easter Egg Hunt is tentatively planned for the beach at 15th Avenue, near the Boardwalk.
“It might have to be moved because of the ocean,” one volunteer said. “Some of the low level tides come right up to the Boardwalk.”
They agreed that plans for Captain Kidd’s treasure hunt on the beach in May might also need to be flexible.
It’s issues like these, Rosenello said, that are on the minds of city officials.
“Having beach replenishment going on in the summer is better than having no beach at all,” he said.
Tourism depends on it and ignoring the problem could have long-term effects.
The beaches need to be protected sooner rather than later, he said.
Otherwise, “We could always have an Easter egg fishing tournament,” Rosenello said.

Maureen L. Cawley can be e-mailed at or you can comment on this story by calling 624-8900, ext. 250.

NW officials leery of Paradise Suites ‘motel’

Are developers fooling local planners?
Staff Writer
NORTH WILDWOOD – According to the plans submitted to the planning board here last month, the proposed Paradise Suites will be a motel.
The 12-unit project, approved to replace The Lau Ray Inn, at 221 East 26th Street, will be four-stories high, as is allowed for motel properties, but not for condominiums. The project will also take full advantage of more lenient parking requirements afforded to motels; 18 spots will be provided. If it was a condominium complex, the developer would need 24.
And, according to the plans, it’s a motel.
But some city officials aren’t so sure.
City Council, under advisement by the planning board, passed a land use amendment this summer aimed at controlling what City Council President Patrick Rosenello called the “rampant development” of condominiums in the city. The ordinance limited the length of buildings to 75 feet and allowable density was reduced for multi-family or condominium construction.
In an effort to encourage motel owners to stay in business and resist the condo-craze, the density, parking and height requirements for motels in the city remained less restrictive.
But city officials are concerned that since the land use law was passed, they have begun to receive site plans for motels that do not look like motels.
“They look like condos,” planning board chairman Charles Brackett said
The units in the Paradise Suites are unusually large; most are just short of 1,200 square feet, city engineer Ralph Petrella wrote in his report. And almost all of them have three-bedrooms. Just one unit on the second floor has only two bedrooms, so that the space could accommodate a small motel reception area and office.
The maid’s storage area, measuring 30 inches by five feet, is in the first-floor parking area, and there is no commercial laundry facility planned for the site.
Planning board member Joseph Gallagher asked about that on Sept. 26 when the plans were being considered. Louis DiGreggorio, the architect for the project which is being developed by Nakash Wildwood, LLC, of New York, said the motel’s linens would be handled by an offsite service, according to the meeting’s minutes.
Gallagher expressed concerns that because of the size of the units, the property might convert to condos instead of being operated as a motel.
Developer’s attorney Ron Stagliano said that he could not “commit to the future,” and that plans for the Paradise Suites met the requirements of North Wildwood’s ordinance for the definition of motels.
“It brings up some issues,” Green said.
Right now, as long as the plans appear to meet the requirements of the ordinance, the planning board has no choice but to approve the plans, Brackett said.
In spite of the board’s reservations, they passed the plans for the Paradise Suites unanimously. Although, they did stipulate that only one electrical service, one gas meter and three water meters could be installed in the building. And they prohibited the installation of individual meters.
Planning board member Ed Einhaus said if the motel changes its use by eliminating its lobby or office, they would have to appear before the zoning board and request variances for parking.
The problem, Green said, is in the enforcement.
“We don’t have any good formal way to keep track,” he said.
A similar project was approved to replace the Brigadoon Motel at 16th and Ocean avenues, Green said, and more are on the way. He said he is keeping his records of the meetings in case problems arise in the future.
“I intend to keep track,” Green said.
So does City Council President Rosenello.
“If the intent of anybody is to circumvent our zoning laws, they should know that that we are going to pursue them doggedly,” he said.
Rosenello said he would not comment on the Paradise Suites project specifically, adding, “I will take their solicitor’s (Stagliano) word that that is not their intent.”
But Rosenello said the city will issue summons against properties that received approvals under one use and are operating under another.
There may be a daily fine assessed with violating the use, he said.
“It is very, very important for a developer to understand that while they may have found what they believe to be a loophole in our land use ordinance, we will pursue every legal means to prevent that from happening,” Rosenello said.
Meanwhile, the planning board has formed a committee including Green, Einhouse and vice chairman Bob Davis to meet with city engineer Ralph Petrella figure out what else can be done.
“We are hoping to come up with a definition of motels that does not allow a property to operate as a condo,” Brackett said. But sorting through the complexities of motel zoning in a market, driven by condo development, is no easy task.
“There is a lot of gray area,” Green said.
After months of consideration and debate, Wildwood Crest adopted a plan for its motel zone, which requires two parking spots for any unit larger than 650 square feet and limits the size of hotel rooms to 800 square feet. Anything bigger is automatically classified as a multifamily unit, and must meet more stringent height and density requirements. It was a move that many motel owners were unhappy with. They said it limited their ability to improve their properties and compete in the modern tourism market. The Crest law allows for two-bedroom suites but not three bedrooms.
“We were very concerned about parking,” Crest Mayor Carl Groon said.
According to Rosenello, Wildwood has done a lot of work defining the “minutia” that classifies a project as a motel or hotel, including a good working definition of transient lodging.
“We are looking into additional safeguards in that respect,” he said.
The planning board committee will be meeting with the City Council administration committee to develop a strategy to address the issue.
“That’s the challenge of the planning board,” Green said, “trying to stay one step ahead of developers. We need to jump on this right away.”
The solutions to planning board issues always involve compromise, he said.
“I’m very supportive of motels. We’d like to maintain them,” Green said. “But at what cost?”
Brackett compared the task to clogging holes in a leaky dike.
“As soon as you fix one another one springs up,” he said. “Sometimes it feels like you have to use all of your fingers and toes.”
Two attempts were made to contact Stagliano, but he could not be reached for comment.

Maureen L. Cawley can be e-mailed at or you can comment on this story by calling 624-8900, ext. 250.

November 12, 2005

WC-Land use ordinance passes

Land use ordinance passes
But more motels approved for demolition
Staff Writer
WILDWOOD CREST – Commissioners adopted the new land use ordinance on Oct. 26, but not before motel owners had a final say.
Attorney Ron Stagliano represented a few motel owners whose site plans were scheduled to come before the planning on Thursday, Nov. 3. They wanted assurances that their plans would be considered under the old land use ordinance, which does not limit density, and not under the new plan, which does.
The new density limits will drastically reduce the number of units that can be built on a lot.
Attorney Bill Kaufman also attended the meeting to represent his client, Giovanni Sansone, the owner of the Little Italy restaurant on Cresse and Atlantic avenues. He also had submitted plans for the demolition and residential development of his restaurant site, which is in the motel zone. He wanted assurances that he would be considered under the old plans as well.
“It is our intention tonight to vote on the ordinance, as it stands,” Mayor Carl Groon told Stagliano. But he assured him that he had spoken to the borough’s attorneys and they agreed site plans that had already been submitted should be considered under the old land use law.
Before the final vote, Chris Ferrara, owner of the Seascape Inn, asked commissioners why the new zoning law would not allow motel owners to combine rooms beyond 650 feet without increasing the parking requirement. Ferrara said his rooms are 350 square feet, and the parking restriction prevents him from combining the rooms to form 700-square-foot suites and maintain one parking spot per unit.
“I guess that’s not a unique situation. I just wanted to appeal to the board to reconsider this,” he said.
Groon said that the requirement allowed motel owners to combine three smaller rooms to create two larger suites of 525 square feet and not increase the number of parking spots.
“The planning board thought that was best,” he said.
Groon reiterated that the board planned to vote on the ordinance that night, but that the issues and the discussion of them were ongoing.
Plans to demolish Ferrara’s motel and build condominiums were passed at the Nov. 3 meeting.
Planning board member and motel owner Tom Keenan, who voted against the new plan for the motel zone, also submitted plans for his property – The Mariner Motel.
In an interview last week, Groon indicated that the passage of the master plan did not mark an end to the discussion on the direction of the borough’s development. He said he planned to keep a close watch on the way that the real estate market affects the borough’s landscape and economy.
“I believe that things are happening so fast in our economy that we need to be vigilant all the time and make appropriate changes when they are necessary,” he said. “There needs to be an ongoing dialogue.”
He acknowledged that much of the development had gone unchecked until it was too late. Groon was elected mayor in May, long after the master planning process had been initiated.
“We can’t wait for the master planner to come every seven to 10 years and make changes. No one expected these numbers two or three years ago,” he said. “(But) we need to be vigilant of ever-changing market forces.”
City planners submitted a prepared draft of the master plan to the planning board on Sept. 5. The planning board made changes and adopted the plan on Oct. 6. It was passed by commissioners on Oct. 26.
The demolition of five motel sites: the Gold Crest Motel, the Bristol Plaza, the Mariner Motel, the Diamond Crest and the Seascape Inn were considered on Nov. 3. Plans to replace them with condominiums were approved.
Plans for Little Italy were removed from the agenda because the application was not advertised 10 day prior to the meeting, as is required by law, and revised plans were not submitted by the deadline, planning board secretary Darlene Devlin said.
The planning board also passed 21 resolutions on Nov. 3, memorializing plans for the demolition of motels and the construction of condos that were approved over the past two months.
“I expect it will slow down quite a bit now,” Devlin said.

Maureen L. Cawley can be e-mailed at or you can comment on this story by calling 624-8900, ext. 250.