ATLANTIC CITY - During the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority's town hall meeting on the boundaries of the Tourism District, the area outside the district was on the minds of city residents Tuesday.
"It's separating us," resident Angie Vaughn said. "It's keeping the blacks and other minorities on one side and the casinos on the other. It should be for everybody."
But interim Executive Director Susan Ney Thompson said a plan is in the works specifically to address those concerns.
The CRDA has discussed creating a Community Development Partnership Division that would finance and coordinate quality-of-life projects in the residential areas outside the district. The division would include local representatives who would discuss what the residents need, Thompson said.
The meeting, held at the Uptown Complex School on Madison Avenue, drew about 100 people, many of whom are 1st Ward residents whose homes are not included in the current zone. They are concerned about what exclusion from the district would mean for them.
But the CRDA is working on a new plan that will ensure it will continue to support the entire city.
"We don't want to sit up here and just talk," Thompson said. "We want to engage with residents of neighborhoods and ask what are the quality-of-life issues? What is it you are missing?"
Thompson said residents should not be afraid they will be disenfranchised under the new district.
"It's not about supporting the district. It's about supporting the entire city," she said. "We all have to work together and all help to find a solution."
Mayor Lorenzo Langford said he did not necessarily think the district would have a negative effect on residents, but said they are entitled to their concerns. He also criticized the plan because it would put control of planning and zoning decisions within the district in the hands of state officials who are not accountable to local residents.
"I don't think any outside entity should come in and impose their will on us," Langford said. "The concerns of the residents should come first."
Libbie Wills, president of 1st Ward Civic Association - which hosted the meeting - classified most 1st Ward residents as ambivalent to the proposal.
"They want to see a good plan for Atlantic City," she said. "But they don't want to see the state come in and just run roughshod over it."
Longtime 1st Ward resident Glenn Banfield said his concern was how the money would filter into areas outside the district.
"How does it end up affecting the taxpayers?" he said. "All they talk about is giving the businesses a break. How about giving the taxpayers a break?"
Banfield also said increased property values and rents could drive many residents away. Banfield is concerned that the new development would cost the city some of its residential character.
"I've seen the area when it was blighted. I've seen it improve, and I want it to continue," he said. "How are people going to stay here? We need Atlantic City to be a place to live - not just visit."
Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation to create the district in February. The CRDA will control planning and zoning within the section, which will include the majority of popular tourist destinations.
The district's proposed borders include the beach, Boardwalk and two blocks north, plus the Marina District and Bader Field. The CRDA meets April 19 to finalize the district, CRDA Chief Legal Officer Paul Weiss said.
Thompson said the plan would allow the city to function as one unit and come up with a universal brand to attract families and adults.
"It's time to diversify. We have to think of A.C. as being a destination itself," she said. "People say ‘I'm going to Borgata. I'm going to Caesar's.' They are not saying, ‘I'm going to A.C.' We need them to say. ‘We're coming to Atlantic City.'"
And residents said they hoped the Tourism District boundaries would eventually expand into the 1st Ward and inlet neighborhoods.
"It's a natural fit," said Tom LaMaine, vice president of the Civic Association. "The inlet really is the entrance to Atlantic City. If you come to the city by boat, that's where you go."
Jason Kaye, owner of the Flagship Resort on Maine Avenue, said he is excited about the possibilities.
"If we were content with what we had there wouldn't be a need for this," he told the crowd. "Certain aspects need to be fixed, but overall I'm very excited about where we're headed."
Contact Joel Landau: