MARGATE — One of the most iconic neighborhoods in the nation could be facing an uncertain future.
Marven Gardens, listed under the National Register of Historic Places, is well-known for its role as the only non-Atlantic City property on the Monopoly board (though misspelled as “Marvin”) and from movies such as “The King of Marvin Gardens” with Jack Nicholson.
But in January, the Margate Planning Board could decide to review the development’s Historic District designation from the city, which was created in 2004 and expanded in 2008 to limit new construction to a height of 25 feet and prohibit a third story. In the rest of the city, the current residential limit is 28 feet and a partial third story can be built.
The restrictions came in response to an increasing number of teardowns among the 121 properties in the Marven Gardens district, which several residents felt were being rebuilt higher and larger than the rest of the neighborhood.
Eliminating those restrictions “would be awful,” resident Michael Cabnet said. “It’s not in the best interest of the community.”
“We’re just afraid one house goes, and then the next house goes,” added his wife, Susan. “And before you know it ...”
Marven Gardens is celebrating its 90th anniversary this coming year, and “we don’t need three-story houses along with 90-year-old homes,” Michael Cabnet said. “It would destroy the neighborhood. As it is now, it’s a neighborhood — and that is a good word. Eventually, and it may be in increments, it would take all the charm out of the neighborhood. The houses would be too imposing.”
Susan Cabnet has worked with neighbor Bill Kautter to create a survey asking all Marven Garden residents their opinion on three options: leaving the current zoning designation and regulations alone, eliminating them completely (which the Planning Board may consider), or enhancing them further so new construction “reflects the character of the neighborhood” — though they add that this option is not an obligation, only that further regulations be considered.
Susan Cabnet said that, so far, 21 people favored leaving the current restrictions alone, eight were for removing them (including two vocal opponents who did not give a survey answer), and 50 were in favor of keeping the restrictions and possibly even adding to them.
Among the residents in favor of the restrictions was Perry Shapiro, whose East Drive home was purchased by his parents in 1960.
“This is a special place, Marven Gardens,” Shapiro said. “I grew up here, I’ve lived my life here. A few people here are only concerned about the financial gain they would get. ... These houses are 90 years old. Why do they have to tear them down and make it look like Ocean City? ... It’s unique to Margate, unique to the island, unique period. There’s no reason something that lasted 90 years should change now.”
Added Sharon Goff, “It’s not like saving Williamsburg. But I’d love to see maintenance of what exists of the original character, and not have it turned into oversized homes on tiny lots.”
As for the opponents, Doug Donato, for his part, tersely called the current restrictions “ridiculous.”
“It existed for years without it, and it’s done nothing but destroy the neighborhood,” Donato said.
John Sewell spoke less about the possibility of current restrictions being removed and more about the possibility of new ones.
“The thoughts on the matter are rather simple: if ain’t broke, don’t ‘fix’ it!” Sewell said in an email. “Yes, there is a small minority that would like to create some type of ‘historic commission’ that would or could dictate what type of facades, etc., Marven Garden homeowners must subscribe to. This notion strikes the vast majority of homeowners as unnecessary meddling in other homeowners' affairs. Most folks tend to agree that the existing, uniform building code is more than adequate to protect the ambiance of the neighborhood. Most bristle at the thought that some self appointed, self anointed board could tell them what type of facade they must have or what type of storm door they must install.”
Susan Cabnet, however, said that was not the case.
“Our concern is teardowns and what they’re putting up in their place,” she said. “(Opponents) are saying that we’re going to tell people what they can build, what colors. That’s the furthest thing from our minds. They’ve made everyone think we want to go around and renovate all houses to what they were originally, and that was never anyone’s intent. We just want whatever new comes in to blend in with the rest of the neighborhood.”
Barbara Packman, however, said that homes would have to be raised anyway due to proposed new flood zones — although the Cabnets said several houses were already being raised without being torn down.
For Packman, however, “We’re not an over-55 community, we’re not a condo,” she said. “We are a section of the city of Margate. Nothing should be unique about what goes on here. There shouldn’t be a law any different from another.”
Contact Steven Lemongello:
Follow @SteveLemongello on Twitter