An appeals panel has upheld a Superior Court decision that affirmed Upper Township's denial of a petition from a Strathmere group trying to separate from the township.

Dale Gerhard

Ludlam Island’s northern section has been part of Upper Township for more than a century, and it looks like it will stay that way.

The state Superior Court's Appellate Division announced Wednesday that it has again ruled against a Strathmere group trying to separate their community from the rest of its mainland municipality and join with neighboring Sea Isle City.

A three-judge panel upheld a Superior Court decision from 2010 that affirmed the township's denial of the petition by Citizens for Strathmere & Whale Beach.

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The group argued that it would receive better services and pay almost half the taxes if it joined with Sea Isle.

Taxes would increase dramatically for the rest of Upper Township, though, because it would lose nearly $400 million in taxable property.

Upper Township Mayor Richard Palombo said the appellate decision was "nothing to pound your chest on," but he felt the decision was the right one for the township.

"We've felt all along that Strathmere is an integral part of the township," he said.

Strathmere became a part of Upper Township in 1905 when the land was still referred to as Corson's Inlet. It was renamed Strathmere in 1912, which is why the tightly-knit neighborhood is celebrating its centennial this year.

Today there are fewer than 160 permanent residents in Strathmere. The community is fewer than 2 miles long, less than 1 percent of the township geographically, but its properties make up nearly 18 percent of the township's total tax base.

Not everyone in Strathmere is for the de-annexation, but nearly 90 percent of the community's registered voters signed the original petition gathered by the CSWB group.

After the Township Committee denied the motion in 2008, now-retired Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Valerie Armstrong upheld the move and said the municipal leaders were justified.

"We are in accord with Judge Armstrong's determination that the Township's denial of plaintiff's petition for de-annexation was neither arbitrary nor unreasonable, and was a reasonable exercise of the Committee's discretion," Wednesday's ruling read. "As such, it does not provide a valid reason for altering the Township's otherwise historical municipal boundaries."

The group can appeal to the state Supreme Court, but township attorney Dan Young, who argued the case said it's unlikely the court would take the case.

"We would argue it's not appropriate for Supreme Court review," he said, seeing no conflict with previous case law.

Former Governor James Florio's law firm represented the citizens group and Florio argued the case in March. The firm did not return a call for comment from The Press of Atlantic City Wednesday.

The citizens group also did not respond to an email request for comment.

Palombo commended the attorneys who represented Upper Township.

He also said that he feels the township has adjusted its level of services since the issue first began to better accommodate Strathmere residents.

"We have provided the services and done what was needed to be done," he said.

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