Atlantic City officials halted demolition of an abandoned building when they realized their colleague owned the historically significant property — and nothing has happened during the five months since.
City building inspectors on March 1 issued a violation and an order to repair or demolish 1600 Arctic Ave., which is owned by city Department of Licensing & Inspections Director Anthony Cox and business partner Michael Johnson, a former commissioner on the Atlantic City Housing Authority.
The structure has been empty since Cox and Johnson bought it in 2008 for $90,000, one-fourth of its $360,000 assessment, tax records show.
City code allows officials to bulldoze any building empty more than six months if conditions threaten public health or safety and owners fail to correct them within a month of official notification. Normally, that entails a hearing with city officials within a month of the ticket being issued.
Yet the only action taken in this case was by then-Business Administrator Michael Scott. Scott voided the violation notice in a March 30 memo that also directed building inspectors to cease enforcement.
“Mr. Cox is … the head of your division within the department. Therefore there should be no one conducting an inspection for the building,” Scott wrote. “The inspection … will be voided due to a conflict. Just as I have done in other cases, I will contact another municipality to assist with the inspection.”
Scott retired two months later. Reached at home last week, he said he intended to call Brigantine officials to handle the matter instead but never did.
“I didn’t get to it before I left because of a lot of other stuff we had going on, but I was in the process of requesting Brigantine to do it, as with other situations,” Scott said. “The last time we had a situation, Brigantine helped. … A year ago, (Cox) had a house that needed to be inspected, and he couldn’t send his crew, so (in those cases,) we send another municipality or the state (Department of Community Affairs).”
The DCA has not handled any projects based on conflict of interest in Atlantic City this year. The agency’s policy is to have the municipality in conflict first try to get help from another town, spokeswoman Tammori Petty said.
“If I say anything to a subordinate employee — and that’s the entire department — it sets off a whole situation, and I thought the most responsible thing to do was to say something to my superior, and that would be the most clear, clean and responsible way to act,” Cox said recently.
Cox said he was waiting for Scott to handle it but never discussed the matter with Scott’s successor, Ron Cash.
Cash said no one told him about the need for a third-party inspection of the building.
“This was something brought to my attention recently as a result of (The Press of Atlantic City) making some calls, asking for information,” said Cash, formerly head of the city Department of Health and Human Services. “So I’m going to make a call to Brigantine, in addition to some other things. This is one of the things that got lost in the transition, but give me a couple weeks.”
A memo from Garry Alston, chief field representative of property improvement for the city, says he spoke to Johnson about the matter but fails to provide more details on their conversation more than four months ago. Alston did not return calls seeking comment. And Johnson said he could not clearly recall the details of their discussion.
“(The ticket) is very vague, so we were trying to get some clarification as to what needs to be repaired. And because of Anthony’s position, it had to go through the BA (business administrator), who I imagine needs to go through a third party, just like when we first purchased it and put a roof on it. The city of Brigantine did the inspections on that,” Johnson said.
The citation from the city notes the ordinances in violation but does not provide more specifics. John Stinsman, the inspector who wrote the ticket, declined comment.
But regardless of additional problems, the vacancy alone constitutes a violation of city code and justifies government intervention.
Cox said previously he often compromises with owners if they show firm plans for their property and agree to a work schedule subject to city monitoring. That process has been in place during Cox’s yearlong blight-eradication campaign responsible for getting 29 dilapidated properties rehabilitated or demolished.
In this case, Cox and Johnson have had plans for the 8,000-square-foot, two-level building for at least a year.
The structure sits at Kentucky and Arctic avenues, known as “KY and the Curb” since decades ago when the intersection was the hub of a nightlife and entertainment strip. Cox and Johnson have sought to remodel it into a museum, bistro, gallery and performance space that emphasizes its legacy. Although potential partners, such as Richard Stockton College and the Chicken Bone Beach Foundation, have voiced support for the concept, none has committed the money needed.
The historic significance of the property could influence the decision about how to proceed.
“I need to make sure I get the history of that property and its impact on the community,” Cash said. “I know it’s been transformed a few times. But without knowing more about that, I do know what that corner represents. It’s a historic address, and there are only a few older buildings like that left.”
In the meantime, Cox and Johnson are late paying the $3,597 in taxes due for first two quarters of this year on the property, which had been vacant at least a decade when they bought it.
“We’ll respond and comply with whatever (is) raised through the results of the inspection,” Cox said. “We want to be good neighbors just like everyone else.”
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