WILDWOOD — A judge will decide whether residents can vote on plans to buy a downtown piece of land that could become home to a synthetic ice skating rink.
A committee of residents opposing the project gathered what City Clerk Christopher Wood deemed enough valid signatures on two separate petitions, one of which opposes the issuance of $1.32 million to buy the downtown property and the other the actual purchase of the site at 3400 Pacific Ave.
According to the city, 117 valid signatures are required to put the questions on the ballot. The first petition had 189 valid signatures, and the second had 188 valid signatures, Wood said.
But Wood deemed the petitions invalid because copies of the ordinance were not attached to the signature pages, despite the fact that each signature page referred to an ordinance being attached.
In an Oct. 17 letter to the petitioners, Wood wrote, “There are staple holes on top of each document, but no attachments thereto.”
The group challenged Wood’s ruling late last month, and Wood said Monday that Superior Court Judge Raymond Batten has since scheduled a hearing in the case for Dec. 3.
In the meantime, the city cannot take any action with respect to the ordinances, Wood said.
Dara Baltuskonis, one of the original petition committee members, said she is optimistic that Batten will side with the petitioners.
“I am confident he will,” she said, “There’s no law that requires the petitions to be attached to the ordinance.”
Baltuskonis said the residents should have a say in such a large project.
The city has requested funding for the land purchase from Cape May County’s Open Space Review Board, which has said it would likely recommend the county pay for the land acquisition, but that would not include creation of a proposed synthetic ice skating rink and its maintenance.
City Commissioner Pete Byron, who has led the effort to purchase the land, has been a supporter of bringing in a skating rink, but he said Monday that a rink was one of many possibilities for the land.
“We need to acquire the ground first. The number one priority was to take advantage of the open space (money),” Byron said.
Byron said that while he has given presentations on the rink project, it was not a certainty.
In June, the city sent letters to neighboring communities asking for support. The letter explained that the city is considering a synthetic skating rink and entertainment area “that will promote open space for festivals and special events, greenery in the downtown area and a recreational facility.”
Byron said having a recreational space with a park and amphitheater downtown is part of the community’s long-term vision under its 2015 plan.
But as for the skating rink, he said, “That was just an idea, and I still believe in that idea, but we will consider all our options.”
Baltuskonis said she and other residents questioned Byron’s involvement in the land purchase given his occupation as a real estate agent. Baltuskonis plans to file complaints with the state’s Government Records Council seeking relief regarding documents on the ice skating rink and its feasibility among other documents that she says the city has not provided.
“We have a right and a necessity to question our leaders,” she said.
Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr. said Monday that the city’s plans depend on the outcome of the court case.
“That will determine our actions,” he said.
Perry Boskus, a former professional ice skater, is president of Global Synthetic Ice, a Clearwater, Fla.-based company that manufactures its synthetic ice products in a Georgia plant.
Boskus said synthetic ice has existed in some form since the 1950s, with some forms proving more successful than others.
His company manufactures Super-Glide. “It’s a polymer with oils (processed) into it to make it glide,” he said.
He said the synthetic ice can wear down skating blades faster than real ice, but he said the surface, which is not slippery like ice, is also useful for teaching people how to skate.
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