ABSECON - The Absecon Gardens project, stalled for years, will move forward after the state Superior Court Appellate Division recently upheld the city's decision to lift age restrictions at the development.

The court denied an appeal earlier this month from a group of Absecon residents in reaction to the city Planning Board's 2011 decision to lift the 55-years-and-older age restriction for Boardwalk Development at the Absecon Gardens development. The ruling said changes to Boardwalk Development's site plans were not "arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable."

"Given the fact that the Appellate Division has said that this project must be open to the general public, we have a building unoccupied and we want to move forward with development," Mayor John Armstrong said.

The development stalled even before Boardwalk Development headed up the project. It started when the original developer proposed an age-restricted complex at the site, which was a former school near Church, Mechanic and School streets. That builder faced financial problems with the project.

Armstrong said he is encouraged by the quality of the construction and of the development, which he said he believes will attract people who can afford the units and respect their investment.

The four-story building is complete and consists of two-story townhomes that feature a patio or balcony.

The residents who challenged the city Planning Board's decision to lift the age restriction at the site - Joseph and Judith Courter, Bud Noble, Emily Guarriello and Shirley Lathbury - are officers of the Save Absecon Committee.

"This group had a fixed idea that (if) anyone other than seniors occupied that building it would be blight to the neighborhood," Armstrong said of the Save Absecon Committee.

Judith Courter said the Save Absecon Committee is still very much in existence and is moving forward with their mission of doing what is best for the community. The group is disappointed they lost their appeal and is not happy with the June 6 decision of the Appellate Division, she said.

"The Appellate Division has ruled in favor of the Planning Board, so now the council has passed a redeveloper's agreement that says we are going to make certain changes to our redevelopment ordinance," Armstrong said.

That happened last week at the city's regular council meeting, when officials authorized a form of agreement with Boardwalk Development by a unanimous vote.

The agreement provides for the amendment of the city's redevelopment ordinance to permit a 58-unit complex - scaled down from an initial 85 units - with an unrestricted age population, Armstrong said. An ordinance on the amendment will be considered at a future council meeting, he said.

"I think that through the negotiations with the developer's agreement and the terms that will go into the ordinance, we've taken every step that can be taken to assure that the project is developed in a way that is compatible with the surrounding neighborhood and community," he said.

In May 2011, the Planning Board decided to allow developers to sell units to anyone, not just those 55 and older.

Neighbors pushed back and filed a lawsuit in July 2011 against the proposal to lift age restrictions. In March 2012, the State Supreme Court Division of Law upheld the city's decision to lift the age restrictions, and the group appealed to the Appellate Division.

"We were told early on that there's no market for buyers 55 years old and over," said Anthony Cappuccio, president of Boardwalk Development. "We could have been built and been selling for a long time if there was a market for that, but everyone we talked to said there was no market,"

Moving forward, Cappuccio said, the complex's main building is complete, but the developers are working toward receiving the final approvals to finish paving the front parking lot.

Cappuccio said his company is excited to finish the final approvals and move forward with sales this summer.

"It has been two years that the city was deprived of all of these tax revenues, and they have had to spend money to defend themselves against this lawsuit. The city has only been getting so much tax revenue when they could be getting five times that," said Cappuccio, who was also named in the lawsuit.

"It didn't make any sense for the taxpayers to do that. It cost the city and it was like the taxpayers were suing themselves," he said.

Contact Donna Weaver:

609-226-9198

Follow on Twitter @DonnaKWeaver