ATLANTIC CITY — A divided City Council on Wednesday night approved a lease and management agreement for the redevelopment of Gardner’s Basin.
The hourslong discussion about Gardner’s Basin revolved not only around its redevelopment but also the fate of crafters who have operated small businesses out of sheds there.
Council approved the redevelopment agreement with Scarborough Properties, a Somers Point-based company, in a 5-4 vote. Council was expected to vote on the matter at the Aug. 9 meeting, but Councilman Kaleem Shabazz pulled it before the vote to answer concerns.
But the 10 seasonal crafters who have operated at Gardner’s Basin, selling art, jewelery, dolls and decorative items argued they haven’t heard a plan for where they could move their businesses in the redevelopment.
The small business owners received notice in March that Crafter’s Village would not reopen due to environmental regulations, and they were told to stop selling items after Monday.
Helena Sauer, one of the crafters, has been working at Gardner’s Basin for seven years.
“I’ve been so confused,” she said. “I hope something can be done. I think Gardner’s Basin is the greatest place in Atlantic City.”
The city received more than $500,000 from the state’s Green Acres program and from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund when the park was established, with requirements that businesses support conservation, recreation and open space.
The National Park Service is ordering the city to remove the shacks, city officials said at the meeting.
Several crafters and members of the public questioned why they needed to pay for a renewed license, how the redevelopment will help them and if there’s a spot they can move to.
Cathy Ward, an attorney with Stradley Ronon who is working with the city, explained at the meeting that after Green Acres and the Park Service gave grant money to the area in the 1970s, the violations have been brought up when trying to apply for additional funding.
The Green Acres area was supposed to promote and allow outdoor recreation, but violations, like the crafters operating out of sheds in the area not selling outdoor items, was brought to the city’s attention when a representative from the National Park Service came to the city and noticed the violations.
”It’s been a very long and discouraging process,” she said.
City Council discussed supporting the crafters in an appeal to the Park Service to reconsider, and others suggested giving the crafters a different place to sit and operate, perhaps next to the basin, where there are no environmental regulations.
“I find it very discouraging and very disrespectful to local business owners,” said Councilman Frank Gilliam, who voted no on the redevelopment agreement, along with Councilmen Mo Delgado, George Tibbitt and Chuen “Jimmy” Cheng.
The city put out a request for proposals for the agreement in October. Scarborough Properties was chosen and outlined its plans to renovate and update the area.
The plans included trying to buy the vacant property next to it, otherwise known as Caspian Point, from Kushner Cos., the family business of President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Scarborough’s proposal, in addition to expansion, includes enhancements to some existing Gardner’s Basin features such as the aquarium, and factors in a new pier restaurant to replace the now-demolished Scales Restaurant.
The plans also include adding features such as a children’s garden, a minigolf course, a water taxi and development with retail, restaurants and parking along Caspian Point, if it’s acquired.
Gilliam questioned the agreement and RFP process used to choose a developer, saying the redevelopment agreement and proposal should have been made public for people to review and give public input.
Councilman Kaleem Shabazz said the RFP process went according to plan and the public was given notice of the request before it was issued.
In other business, City Council took a step toward tightening regulations for demonstrations and parades, following the violent protest events that erupted in Virginia last month.
The ordinance was introduced at the meeting that would amend the city code chapter that regulates parades and assemblies, to add additions making masks hiding the identity of a person, weapons, sticks, and vehicles driving over the speed of 5 mph unlawful.
This ordinance was proposed following the Aug. 12 violence that erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia, when white supremacists and white nationalists gathered for a “Unite the Right” rally, met with anti-racism protesters.
Marchers came with torches, armor and weapons, and Virginia resident Heather Heyer was killed when a Dodge Challenger plowed into a crowd of the counterprotesters, wounding almost 20 others.
Councilman Gilliam, who proposed the resolution, said tightening the demonstration code would be a step toward preventing a situation like what happened in Virginia in Atlantic City.
“It’s better to actually be safer than sorry,” he said.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated the city hasn't been able to get additional funding because of the Green Acres violations. The violations have been mentioned, but haven't prevented the city from getting the additional funding. This story has been updated.