By MAUREEN L. CAWLEY
WILDWOOD CREST – The master plan was passed here May 4 during a special planning board meeting. During the public hearing, residents, business owners and attorneys rose to speak to the standing-room-only crowd to express conflicting views on the pace and content of the much-anticipated plan.
The first major change to planning in the Crest involved the B-1, or business zone. In an effort to encourage business growth in the borough, the new master plan decreases the size of the B-1 zone but limits development in that area to commercial structures. According to the new plan, residential units will now only be permitted if they are built on the second floor of a business.
“It is very vital that we preserve our business district,” said Commissioner Matt Tomlin.
Planning board President Harry Mitchell indicated that the reduced size of the business district and the restrictions to residential development in that zone, mirrors the strategy employed on 17th Avenue in North Wildwood and Avalon’s commercial zone.
“It has worked really well in other places,” Mitchell said.
Dennis Coughlin, a local attorney, warned the board that allowing residences above businesses may “create a slum in years to come.”
He noted that many of the businesses that have opened in the first floor commercial spaces in other communities are realtors and title companies.
“Real estate cycles are cycles,” he said. “What happens when the boom is over?”
Attorney Ron Stagliano wanted clarification from the board that residential structures were no longer “conforming uses” in the B-1 zone.
When master planners Susan Gruel and Fred Heyer confirmed this, Stagliano asked the board to consider making a provision for plans that have already been before the board for preliminary approvals, but are now “non-conforming uses.” He advised “grandfathering” approved plans to prevent “undue hardships” to taxpayers who have already expended time and money on the approval process.
The board agreed to include allowances for these contingencies, which means that plans previously considered to demolish Bayside Pizza, Wagon Wheel Florist, Wawa and Holland’s service station on New Jersey Avenue to build residential units in their place. (Tom Holland, the owner of Holland’s service station asked that it be made clear to the public that they have no plans to move the business at this time.)
The new master plan also amended the land use ordinance regarding the amount of “livable space” allowed on the second floor of a residential structure. As was previously reported in The Wildwood Leader, there was disagreement among planning board members at their meeting on April 7, as to whether plans that included livable space over a garage area conformed to the land use plan. The ordinance now allows that contingency.
The last change made to the existing plan was the elimination of the majority of the R-3 zone and deletion of “garden-style apartments” as a conditional use there.
Amendments to the M-1 (motel) zone are on hold until another public meeting is scheduled with master planners, the planning board and motel owners. Stake holders and planners will need to consider the input from CRDA, as well as a proposal to create a historic motel district that will offer tax incentives to motel owners.
Attorney Alan Gould expressed concern that the motel district was left out of the plan.
“Why don’t you pass the entire thing at one time?” he asked.
Mitchell replied, “Things we discussed three or four months ago have changed in the M-1 zone. If we don’t do something now in the B-1 zone, there will be no B-1 zone.”
Resident Mae Timer agreed.
“If we keep talking over each plan, we’ll still be here six years from now,” she said. “I want to still be able to see blue sky without getting a stiff neck. I think not only do you have to pass changes to B-1, you have to pass it quickly. There has to be some provisions to amend the master plan as we go. The barn door is open.”
Other residents suggested that provisions be made for architectural design at the planning level. “In order to avoid cookie cutter condos,” said resident Louis Johnstone, “I urge you to consider an architectural review board. It would slow down the approval process.”
Planning board members Thomas Alvarado and Thomas Keenan disagreed with some of the changes presented in the master plan.
“I think we need to take another look at the B-1,” Alvarado said.
“I think we are creating a hardship on business people,” said Keenan. “I think we are too late and too fast.”
The plan was then passed by the planning board with Alvarado and Keenan voting against it.
It will be considered at the next commissioners meeting on Wednesday, May 25.
Maureen L. Cawley can be e-mailed at email@example.com or you can comment on this story by calling 624-8900, ext. 250.