VENTNOR — City officials plan to meet with homeowners at the end of the month to determine the future of three undeveloped Boardwalk lots that have sat vacant for almost 15 years.
The properties are between South Derby and Dorset avenues in the historic St. Leonard’s Tract, an eight-block area that has typically been home to single-family homes on mostly 50-by-125-foot lots.
An ordinance that passed in 2003 requires any new oceanfront development in the zone to have a minimum lot size of 10,000 square feet. According to the ordinance, all lots that already existed there before 2003 were kept at a minimum of 5,750 square feet.
Commissioner Lance Landgraf said this larger lot size requirement is inconsistent with the rest of the city and has caused the properties to sit vacant for more than 15 years.
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“In my opinion as a professional planner, it was improperly done. It was done for spite to stop development there for whatever reason, and it’s worked,” Landgraf said at the City Commission meeting June 14.
He said he believed the 2003 ordinance created spot zoning, which is when one plot of land or building is granted an exception, creating a “spot” in the overall city zone.
Landgraf said lowering the minimum lot size would standardize the properties in the St. Leonard’s Tract area and promote development.
“We’re trying to make the wrongs right in the past two years. We’re not going to do something that's not consistent with the rest of the city,” Mayor Beth Holtzman said.
Many of the homeowners in the St. Leonard’s Tract Association agree with the city’s desire to encourage development on the vacant lots, but some take issue with reducing the lot sizes along the Boardwalk.
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“I think we all want to see something happen on that site. I think we all agree on that,” said Todd Miller, who lives on South Dorset Avenue. “How the lots are configured is controversial.”
Homeowner Craig Anmuth, who has lived on Dorset Avenue for more than 20 years, disagreed with Landgraf at the June 14 commission meeting.
He denied the area was spot zoned and did not think the larger lot size requirement contributed to the lack of development.
Fellow St. Leonard’s tract homeowner Michael Bluestein also disagreed with the commissioners and questioned whether the city could be spot zoning itself if it decides to reduce the lot sizes.
“The difference is it was spot zoning when they created lots that the lot size was different from the neighborhood. It is not spot zoning when you revisit those lots and you make them so they’re in conformity with sizes of lots in the neighborhood,” Solicitor Tim Maguire said.
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The tract, which was first mapped out in 1896, contains large Boardwalk homes, and many of the association members want to see that tradition maintained.
“The jewel of Ventnor is St. Leonard’s Tract, and to change the zoning in St. Leonard’s Tract to allow higher-density building is the wrong way to go,” Anmuth said.
Bluestein also said he was concerned that allowing for smaller homes along the Boardwalk might decrease the value of existing homes and, over time, result in lower tax revenue for the city.
Along with preserving value in the neighborhood, Anmuth brought up concerns about traffic safety if more homes and driveways are created.
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The Board of Commissioners said it plans to take all of these issues into consideration at a public hearing later this month.
The city had originally drafted amendments to the city’s Land Use code that included cutting the required size down from 10,000 to 7,500 square feet for interior lots and 8,125 for corner lots facing the street and ocean.
However, these specific amendments were pulled from the ordinance because city officials wanted to include opinions from homeowners and the Planning Board to address the zoning discrepancy.
As of now, a public hearing is scheduled to be held at the Planning Board meeting July 30.
“We don’t want to rush it. We want to get it right,” Landgraf said.