EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP - An affordable housing project may soon take over a large Black Horse Pike hotel that has seen damage from Hurricane Sandy, sharply increased taxes and low occupancy rates.
The Township Committee approved several resolutions at its Wednesday meeting that would allow Renewable Jersey at Egg Harbor to use existing approvals to convert the Clarion Hotel and Convention Center at 6821 Black Horse Pike into 144 units of affordable housing.
Units could become available as soon as late next year, said Ron Rukenstein, Renewable Jersey's principal. The hotel would remain open as the rooms are converted to apartments, township Administrator Peter Miller said.
State Supreme Court rulings have established that towns must consider low- and moderate-income residents in their planning. Egg Harbor Township has fought the mandates, but a lawsuit settlement last year led to the township adopting an affordable-housing plan.
Backers picked the hotel site after strong community opposition last month nixed a proposal to build a 70-unit affordable housing complex on a six-acre tract west of the Shore Mall in the township's Cardiff section.
"From our standpoint, either site could work, and both sites are good sites, but this is a better fit for Egg Harbor, so that's why it works better," Rukenstein said.
The 213-room hotel "is in need of rehabilitation given the damage from Super Storm Sandy," a resolution approved Wednesday by the Township Committee states.
It was not clear what damage had been sustained. The hotel was open for business on Wednesday, and no damage was visible from outside or in the lobby.
The "Egg Harbor Hotel Conversion" would be built in two phases, according to another approved resolution. The 84- and 60-unit phases would be built consecutively, and a third resolution established the complex would make payments in lieu of taxes.
Funding for the conversion would come from the New Jersey Mortgage and Finance Agency, Rukenstein said, which seeks to increase access to affordable housing. He did not know how much the conversion would cost.
When finished, the complex would include 28 650-square-foot, one-bedroom units; 76 850-square-foot, two-bedroom units; and 40 1,150-square-foot, three-bedroom units. They would rent for $690 to $945.
The resolutions also formally state the township's desire to build the affordable housing complex, authorize a developer's agreement with Renewable Jersey and amend the township's West Atlantic City Redevelopment area to include the hotel.
The nearly 14-acre hotel property is on the far eastern edge of the township, about 450 feet from the municipal border with Pleasantville. Miller said the complex is not near residences and has good access to public transportation.
The housing conversion may officially be a result of damage from last fall's Hurricane Sandy, but tax records show all of the hotels owned by Margate cosmetic surgeon Ira M. Trocki took a beating in last year's township-wide revaluation, its first in years.
Property records show the overall local tax bill for Trocki's three hotels, not including county assessments, climbed more than 50 percent to $577,255 this year. Trocki said he did not want to comment on any aspect of the hotel conversion.
Property and corporate records show the Clarion Hotel and property are owned by Trocki Hotels LP and operated by Picasso's Inc. These entities are responsible for the hotel portion of Trocki's extensive local investments, and state business records name Trocki as the president and only listed member of both.
Trocki Hotels also owns the nearby Holiday Inn Express and the Travelodge Atlantic City in the township's West Atlantic City section, property records show.
Property tax records indicate the assessment on Trocki's Clarion property jumped 130 percent following last year's revaluation, rising to $9.6 million. As a result, the amount the property would pay in taxes to support the township government and its schools rose more than $70,000, to $221,164 - a nearly 50 percent jump between 2012 and 2013.
However, the township will probably see far less if the building is converted to affordable housing. Estimates filed with the township show the project would pay 10 percent of revenue, instead of taxes, with the annual payment estimated about $117,000.
The proposed conversion comes as the complex apparently has had trouble attracting clients for years. The Zoning Board previously granted permission in 2006 to convert the building to age-restricted housing. The township lifted the age restriction in 2009. At the 2009 hearing, Trocki told the Zoning Board that without the conversion, low occupancy rates meant the complex was likely to close.
Miller said the hotel has struggled to get more than 90 percent of its rooms sold during summer weekends, and occupancy rates dropped to between 25 to 30 percent mid-week in the off-season. When a reporter visited the hotel Wednesday night, there were just seven cars in the vast, empty parking area, which sprawls across much of the lot.
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