MAUREEN L. CAWLEY
LOWER TOWNSHIP – The crowd at the Lower Township Municipal Building last week was literally split down the middle on a proposal to construct a 14-story, 125-unit condominium development at the Grand Hotel site in Diamond Beach.
On the left were Diamond Beach and Wildwood Crest residents who were there to tell CAFRA project manager Gail Moore they opposed the scale of the development. On the right was developer Eustace Mita of Achristavest, LLC, his Attorney Frank Corrado and a group of local Realtors, developers and others who hope CAFRA approves the project.
“We are here mostly to listen,” Corrado told Moore. “For now I’d like to hear what the public has to say.”
No decision was made Wednesday, June 29, nor was one expected. Those interested still have about two weeks to submit written comments on the plan.
First to speak was Gregory Boris, a resident of Diamond View Condominiums, adjacent to the Grand Hotel. He approached the microphone carrying a 2-foot ceramic fisherman in a yellow rain coat.
“I call him Mr. Diamond View,” he said.
Boris, who is 6-foot-4, placed the figure on the floor beside him.
“This is the size of our condominium complex,” he said, pointing down at the statue, “and I am the size of the Grand project.”
Boris indicated that the bottom of the fisherman’s raincoat represented the approximate height of the many two-story, single family residences in his neighborhood.
Residents of Diamond Beach can shake hands over the fence with their neighbors in Wildwood Crest, but they are under the jurisdiction of Lower Township, whose government and services are situated several miles away, across two bridges on Route 621.
Lower Township’s zoning board approved the developer’s application for variances allowing the building to exceed the existing eight-story height limit. An ordinance is currently pending extending the allowable height in the zone to 12 stories.
“Those who sat on the zoning board do not live on our island or in our community,” Crest resident Tina Ziccardi said.
Crest resident Vincent DeRienzo said the building would worsen traffic in his already congested neighborhood. He was also concerned about water pressure and fire safety.
“We have no fire apparatus to reach 12 stories,” he said.
Crest Commissioner Joyce Gould submitted a resolution from Crest commissioners opposing the project on the grounds that it “directly abuts municipal boundary lines” and is “inappropriate for (the) current land use area.”
She asked Moore to view a video segment from ABC’s Good Morning America that reported that fire companies need to arrive on a fire scene in six minutes to “get ahead of a fire” and save lives. Members of the public reported at the meeting that it takes the Erma Fire Company in Lower Township 15 to 20 minutes to arrive in Diamond Beach. Residents are concerned the increased height adds increased risk.
“The Erma Fire Company will never get to Diamond Beach in six minutes,” Gould said.
Lower Township Mayor Walter Craig told Moore he had a dual-perspective because he grew up in Wildwood Crest. He said he believes the proposed plan fits into its surroundings.
“It is nothing more than what’s going on the entire island,” he said.
Craig said he was there to represent the 25,000 residents of Lower Township, and that most of them supported the plan.
Members of the audience booed the mayor as he spoke, and shouted, “Secede! Secession!”
After the meeting, Craig said some of the comments said to his face were enough for him to ask a police officer to step into the meeting. He said members of the public had every right to be heard, but that they did not have a right to abuse others.
Developer Eustace Mita indicated that he had come to the meeting prepared to speak to concerned Lower Township residents, but that only about three were there. He then addressed his response to residents of the Crest. He assured them that the building would be “the safest in New Jersey,” and that fire safety would not be an issue.
“I am embarrassed at the way the mayor was treated here today,” he told the crowd.
Realtor Brad Vodges said he grew up about four blocks from the Grand Hotel and compared the recent development in the area to the Diamond Beach of his youth.
“Seaview Avenue was a dead end then. I am totally in favor of this project. People are scared of change,” he said.
Phillip Eizman owns property on Raleigh Avenue. He supports the project, too. He said when he bought in Diamond Beach it was as an investment.
“I looked at the property for what it might be worth some day,” he said. “I knew sooner or later something had to be done at The Grand.”
Rick Tomasso is a builder who owns property near The Grand site.
“I am not against building. It’s a great idea to fix up the Grand Hotel,” he said.
But Tomasso is concerned that the new height will set a precedent and change the “whole look” of the surrounding neighborhood. He called the proposal for 12 stories “drastic.”
“I don’t want to come down here to walk down the streets of New York City,” he said. “(The people that support this) are not excited about the look of Diamond Beach. They are excited about money. Be careful what you do with your greed. They’ll be no going back.”
Paul Chiolo, of Oceanside Realty, plans on submitting a written statement to CAFRA in support of the project.
“What I didn’t get here was that it was the same people (who opposed the project) today that have complained about The Grand site for five or six years,” he said. He indicated that standing water, litter on the beach and problems with The Grand’s customers were often sited as issues at the hotel.
“This is the only solution. Progress is going to alleviate those problems,” he said.
“We are not opposed to this project,” Crest resident Kathy Popper-Byron said. “We are opposed to the size of this project. We want it to conform to our neighborhood, our style of living.”
Popper-Byron appealed to the developer to come up with a more moderate proposal.
“Eating and drinking should be done in moderation. Building should be done in moderation,” she said. “The beach and the environment are not a rubber band that can accommodate overindulgence.”
Corrado told Moore he believes the project “uniquely suited” to the resort development in Diamond Beach and the Crest.
“We believe it is a CAFRA-compliant project,” he said.
More said that CAFRA will consider written comment on the project until Thursday, July 14. Comments can be sent to: Gail J. Moore, Project Manger, Land Use Regulation Program, P.O. Box 439, Trenton, 08625.
Maureen L. Cawley can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can comment on this story by calling 624-8900, ext. 250.