ABSECON— A new, scaled-down plan for a housing complex met with skeptical members of the public who insisted during Thursday’s City Council meeting it could be successfully sold for only people 55 and older.
“I can’t understand how the little town of Absecon couldn’t sell 40 units of senior housing,” said city resident Emily E. Guarriello, 70. “I’m sure you could find (40) senior citizens to buy in that community.”
City officials approved a resolution that formally asked the Planning Board to review a proposed ordinance that would lift the age restrictions on the property as well as make technical changes that would allow the Absecon Gardens project to go forward.
Council also tabled a related resolution that would authorize the mayor to formally sign a redevelopers agreement with the developer, Boardwalk Design and Development of Margate.
At issue is a long-stalled development in the center of Absecon, where builders had once proposed an age-restricted complex on the site of a former school near Church, Mechanic and School streets. But when the original builder ran into financial problems, a new developer sought and received approval to lift the age restrictions under 2009 state law.
Developers in towns around the state have similarly sought to lift age-restrictions on stalled projects, saying the market is saturated. But many have also run into neighborhood groups that have bitterly fought the changes.
In Absecon, vocal neighbors have vehemently fought the proposal to lift the age restrictions, appealing the approval to the courts, where it was upheld. A hearing before the Appellate Division is scheduled for next month, with a ruling expected later this year.
Thursday’s meeting was a formal presentation of Boardwalk Design and Development’s scaled-back proposal.
The project now in the courts would have 74 housing units, while the project discussed Thursday would have 58.
Consequently, there were fewer parking spaces. The project before the courts would have 156 spaces, while using 37 street parking spaces. This most recent project would have 128 spaces, all onsite.
The project also moved around other elements, including removing a swimming pool and reorganizing the driveways.
Members of the public repeated accusations that the builders never properly researched the senior market before asking to drop the age restrictions.
Jerry Savell, the vice chairman of the city’s Planning Board, lobbied for senior projects, generally, saying the project was viable but was caught in a downturn.
“I think you can bank on senior citizens,” Savell said. “Senior citizen properties are the ones I think will follow the code enforcement that I think is beginning to deteriorate in Absecon.”
City Councilman Chris Seher challenged the assertions, saying if there was a market, the builders would have already built the project.
“Let’s create the list (of interested buyers), pro bono, and present it to the developer,” Seher said. “Just a suggestion.”
Added Rick DeLucry, a land-use attorney who presented the project, “If people genuinely believe there is a market out there, please make an offer to buy it from us. … We have been open to taking any kind of offer for quite awhile.”
Others complained about parking and traffic. Carey Yakita, 41, spoke for more than 10 minutes about the difficulties of parking in the neighborhood. She also asked builders to clean up a mound of concrete on the site.
Susan Rasera, 58, who lives on West Church Street, complained about the traffic on the street that she said she believed would worsen with the development. She also complained that the changes that eliminated a proposed swimming pool would reduce the recreation on the site.
“Now we have children looking for something to do, wandering town,” she said.
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