WILDWOOD — City Commission is expected to vote Wednesday on plans to borrow $1.3 million for the development of a synthetic ice rink, even as opposition mounts to the controversial plan.
The $ 1.3 million bond ordinance that will support the rink and a second ordinance allowing the city to purchase the vacant lot at 3400 Pacific Ave. for the rink will be considered during Wednesday’s regular City Commission meeting, but opponents are looking to circulate a petition to bring the issue before city voters.
“Help us end the most ridiculous, self-serving and ill-advised project that the City of Wildwood has ever seen,” ends an email sent by a group calling itself Wildwood Watchdogs.
The group, which includes the initial petitioners Dara Baltuskonis, Mike Mursh, Edward “Chip” Harshaw, Mary Ann Giblin, and Kathleen McCullough, is requesting that any adopted ordinances be suspended from taking effect or that the city’s residents have a chance to vote on the measures.
The skating rink plan has already stirred controversy after the city’s former development director accused Commissioner Peter Byron, who is spearheading the project, and the city’s consultant of fraud in an effort to get the rink approved.
Byron and Triad Associates have denied any wrongdoing.
City Clerk/Administrator Christopher Wood said that in order to get the measures before voters or suspended, the petitioners need the signatures of 117 registered city voters, or 15 percent of the number of voters who cast ballots in the 2011 general election.
Meanwhile, Cape May County Administrator Ed Grant said Monday that the county has received a formal application from Wildwood for the open-space acquisition. The Board of Chosen Freeholders is expected to vote Tuesday on a resolution appraise the property, a necessary step.
The land is owned by PII Wildwood LLC of Fort Lee, and is assessed at $1.35 million, according to property records.
Byron, who has led the plan to bring a synthetic ice skating rink to town, is expected to make a presentation at Wednesday’s City Commission meeting on the project, but he did not wish to comment Monday.
Byron and other city representatives appeared at a closed session of the Cape May County Open Space Board on June 26 with hopes of using open space funds, not city tax dollars, to pay for the purchase of the land.
In a July 16 letter to Byron, Assistant County Counsel James B. Arsenault said, “The Open Space Review Board viewed your presentation favorably. The board concluded that, subject to formal application and a determination of certified land value for the parcel, the board would recommend that the Board of Chosen Freeholders provide reimbursement toward the acquisition to the city.”
Arsenault said the board’s support, however, was contingent on several items, including the project’s role in advancing the Vision 2015 plan, designed to promote the downtown.
Giblin, one of the rink’s opponents, said the city has been very vague about the project and its reasons for pursuing it. She said that while Byron has said he expects the rink to become a major attraction and financial boon, “I don’t see it working out that way.”
“It’s a financial disaster. We do not have the community that can garner enough patrons to support this facility,” Giblin said.
Former Wildwood Mayor Gary DeMarzo, who lost his seat on the commission in the May 2011 election, is among those opposing the rink. DeMarzo called the project absurd and predicted the group would have no difficulty collecting the 117 signatures it needs.
In an email sent to local media outlets, the group said it aims to stop the city from issuing the bonds to buy the rink.
The group argues that an initial feasibility study done on the project for the city found it was not recommended, but Michael Zumpino, of the consulting firm Triad Associates has said, “In fact, the finding of this initial research conducted for the city did not indicate the project was not favorable. Instead it helped guide the project to the next phase of financial feasibility.”
The groups also argues that Byron is using the project for personal gain.
“This project is a dream conjured up by Commissioner Pete Byron, a Realtor that personally owns property only blocks from the proposed site. It is the position of this group, that Commissioner Byron should have removed himself from all aspects of this project. Instead, Commissioner Byron has actively used his office to personally and unfairly enrich himself and continually attempts to develop this area to increase the value of his personal business,” the e-mail reads.
Contact Trudi Gilfillian: