A plan to turn an expansive home at a highly visible entranceway to Atlantic City into transitional housing for ex-offenders has left the CRDA calling on city officials to stop the project.
In a letter written to Mayor Lorenzo Langford on Tuesday, Casino Reinvestment Development Authority Executive Director John Palmieri said the CRDA is concerned with the plans for 602 North Carolina Ave., noting that they are inconsistent with both the city’s Master Plan from 2008 as well as the more recent Tourism District Master Plan.
The disagreement exemplifies both the limitations of the state-run Tourism District’s control and the conflict resulting as both the state and the city exert influence over the resort. The property built by the CRDA and later sold in 2005 falls outside of the boundaries of the state-run Tourism District but nonetheless is seen by visitors traveling to the resort.
“If the city is, in fact, considering approving such a use at this location, the authority requests individual notice of the public hearing of this application, so that it may enter its objection,” Palmieri wrote in the letter in which he also requested a meeting with the mayor on the subject.
Now abandoned for several years, the once-elegant home at an intersection with the White Horse Pike has fallen into disrepair and become an unsightly landmark distinguished by boarded-up windows and debris scattered throughout the yard. Community organization AC Miracle House recently came forward with plans to renovate the site built by the CRDA as a demonstration project in universal design for the handicapped
Group representatives, who could not be reached Thursday, said it could be the ideal location for a rehabilitative program, including spiritual guidance, education and job training, for ex-drug offenders and others who had committed non-violent crimes. First, the site would need a zoning variance from the city.
Previously, Keith Mills, the city’s director of planning and development, said the mayor supported the proposal for the site. On Thursday, however, in a letter to Palmieri, the mayor said he had never had any substantive conversation about the location. He stressed he would only support the project if it was used exclusively for rehabilitation of Atlantic City residents and if the neighborhood is also supportive.
Langford also declined to engage in any further discussion about the city’s decision — whatever that may be.
“Let me be perfectly clear, I wholeheartedly embrace the concept of re-entry. After all, whether we like it or not, those persons who have been arrested and confined to penal custody are going to return to our city anyway,” Langford wrote.
“In closing, there is no need to discuss this issue further. Simply put, if the consensus of the neighbors is such that a halfway house is unwanted at this location, as always, I will remain true to and consistent with my political convictions and support the wishes and best interest of those who sent me here to represent them,” he said.
The home was once the headquarters of Gilda’s Club of South Jersey, a cancer-support organization that leased the property from CRDA. After the club moved out in 2005, the site was sold to Hung Pham of Ventnor for $603,000. Pham had plans to build townhomes on the site, but those plans never moved forward. AC Miracle House representatives have said they are now considering a lease with Pham.
Langford closed his letter to Palmieri by asking if the CRDA was being “hypocritical” by welcoming cancer patients to the site but not ex-offenders.
There is a difference between the two groups, Palmieri later said in an interview.
“The makeup of cancer patients is not comparable to the demographic of ex-offenders,” he said.
Nonprofit organizations such as the Atlantic City Rescue Mission, the John Brooks Recovery Center and Sister Jean’s Kitchen are all located within the confines of the Tourism District. Palmieri has said those services are valuable but should not be located within the Tourism District. Relocation discussions are ongoing.
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