Egg Harbor Township officials seem ready to seize an opportunity brought by Hurricane Sandy to buy up some of the motels that line the Black Horse Pike in the township's West Atlantic City section.
The storm battered the bargain motels on the north side of the pike, and may have affected property values enough for the township to finally go ahead with a long-talked-about plan to begin buying and closing them. It's about time.
For years, officials have talked about redeveloping this strip of land to get get rid of 13 small motels, which have long been an eyesore along one of the main entryways to Atlantic City.
The motels have attracted more than their share of drug dealers, prostitutes and petty criminals looking to make a score in Atlantic City. In 2006, the bodies of four women were found in the reeds behind the motels.
This strip of dilapidated buildings has been blamed for holding back the development of the southern side of the pike, along beautiful Lakes Bay, which could otherwise surely be one of the gems of southern New Jersey.
Motel owners have resisted previous redevelopment plans, but for some, Sandy may have changed that attitude. The storm brought chest-high water into some of the rooms. While some owners have tried to make repairs, others have done little to rehabilitate their properties, which still need structural, plumbing and electrical work, as well as mold removal, after they were inundated with saltwater.
Last week, township officials issued a request for appraisal services to assess the value of the motels, with a goal of having appraisals in hand by September. The township might have enough money to buy five or six of the properties using a $3 million grant made by the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority in 2005. That's a start.
A 2008 redevelopment study of the area envisioned using eminent domain to acquire the properties. Like the township's master plan, it suggests selling the land to a hotel or condominium developer.
Whether these low-lying properties, which flood in even modest storms, could ever be used for large-scale construction seems doubtful. But simply clearing away the existing structures and returning the land to a natural state may be the best outcome. That would immediately improve the neighborhood and encourage more upscale development of the other side of the pike.
If Sandy's destruction provides the impetus to finally move this plan forward, the redevelopment of this strip of West Atlantic City could be the silver lining in the storm's dark cloud.