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Charles J. Olson  

St. Augustine’s Connor Kraus, left, smiles while defeating St. John Vianney’s Isaac Montalvo during Friday’s South Jersey non-public A final on February 8, 2019. Photo/Charles J. Olson

The road into Atlantic City is riddled with blight. Can a new tactic work?

Staff at the Comfort Inn on the Black Horse Pike became accustomed to seeing guests sell narcotics in the parking lot.

The police would be called to the now-shuttered hotel, said property owner Dr. Ira Trocki, and the issue resolved. But the seedy motels across the highway from his inn always brought problems back.

“West Atlantic City is gorgeous. It’s on the bay. But all the little motels on the opposite side have had nothing but problems over the years and hold Atlantic City back,” said Trocki, a plastic surgeon who is looking to sell the property to a developer. The hotel closed in 2016 after water pipes broke during a frigid winter.

It’s not part of Atlantic City, but the 298-acre stretch of the Black Horse Pike in Egg Harbor Township is Atlantic City’s problem. It’s dotted with crumbling motels, mostly built in the 1950s, that have provided havens for drug use, prostitution and other illegal activities.

Driving into the city, these eyesores set the stage for glistening casinos and a world-famous Boardwalk.

Now, the township is approaching the decades-long blight that has plagued the resort’s entrance from a different angle, but progress is still slow. And with Stockton University and South Jersey Gas sitting at the door to Atlantic City, there’s a renewed push to polish up the pike.

Edward Lea / Staff Photographer 

Empty concrete lots and overgrown grass line Route 322, the entrance to Atlantic City. Monday Jan 28, 2019. Press of Atlantic City / Edward Lea Staff Photographer

Last month, the township submitted a federal grant application for $2.4 million to tear down four motels: the Bay Point Inn, Destiny Inn, Budget Motel and Hi Ho Motel. The money would come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s flood mitigation grant assistance program, which offers funds to demolish buildings that are repeatedly and severely flooded.

All four properties have had a total of 56 claims over the past 10 years, equal to $3.8 million. The state is reviewing the application before it gets sent to FEMA. By the fall, the federal government will either approve or deny the proposal.

Only recently did the grants become available to towns.

“It’s been very, very slow getting funding,” said Peter Miller, Egg Harbor Township’s business administrator. “It was only in the last couple of years FEMA made this type of grant available for municipalities.”


Reimagining West Atlantic City — the resort town’s “gateway” — isn’t hard. A 2009 redevelopment plan envisioned high-rise condos, bustling nightlife and walking trails. Tattoo parlors and “sexually oriented businesses” would be banned.

But since then, progress has stalled. Limited funding from the CRDA for motel demolitions, a lack of interested developers and a flood problem have dampened headway.

“The concept is still there, but there are no redevelopers knocking on the doors,” said former Mayor James “Sonny” McCullough. He blames the economic downturn spurred by the 2008 recession that he says has persisted in and around Atlantic City. Frequent flooding on the pike doesn’t help matters.

“We had conversations with two or three potential developers in 2006 and 2007, but after the recession, they never came back,” Miller said. “They disappeared.”

Edward Lea / Staff Photographer  

Empty concrete lots littered with trash line Route 322, the blight entrance to Atlantic City. Monday Jan 28, 2019. Press of Atlantic City / Edward Lea Staff Photographer

Even getting West Atlantic City designated an area in need of redevelopment took years after a back-and-forth with the state Department of Environmental Protection over whether the peninsula is considered an island or part of the mainland, he said.

McCullough has seen West Atlantic City through some of its worst times.

In the late 1980s, he said, families were housed in some of the motels, placing them in an unsavory environment. Break-ins in nearby homes were common, he said.

A handful of motels were demolished in 2015 using $3 million from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, including one dubbed the “motel from hell” where four women were found murdered nearly 13 years ago. The killings made national headlines.

The CRDA and the city entered into an agreement last year to demolish the Bayview Inn in the resort, where a 4-foot alligator was found in a pool during a 2017 drug raid.

But the demolition was postponed for months after a company, Deep Blue Development, expressed interest in redeveloping the property. That never happened, and the motel has sat vacant and falling apart.

Plans for razing it are on again. Tear-down costs were initially estimated at $230,000, said CRDA Planning Director Lance Landgraf. A chain-link fence surrounds the dilapidated, boarded-up building to keep out trespassers.

“The first thing you see when you come into the community shouldn’t be a dilapidated building,” Landgraf said. “It’s one of the main access points to the community. As soon as you come off the expressway Exit 2, that’s what you see.”

Edward Lea / Staff Photographer 

Blight welcomes visitors to Atlantic City, with rows of run-down motels along Route 322 into the resort. Monday Jan 28, 2019. Press of Atlantic City / Edward Lea Staff Photographer

Historic South Jersey homes restored after Hurricane Sandy damage

Donna Robinson achieved her dream in 2006 of owning property at the Jersey Shore when she bought the historic Robert Fisher house in Ocean City.

Hurricane Sandy turned Robinson’s dream into a nightmare by putting 2½ feet of water into the building, resulting in a floating refrigerator and other damage.

A $335,000 grant from the New Jersey Historic Trust saved Robinson’s investment and allowed her residence to be improved to the point where it is better overall now than when she purchased it.

“It’s more in its glory now,” said Robinson, 58. “It was beautiful. Now, it’s magnificent.”

Some historic New Jersey homes did not remain intact when Sandy, one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history, came crashing ashore in late October 2012.

Two such houses — the former Fisher home and the Andrews-Bartlett house in Tuckerton — were repaired recently.

The U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Park Service funded the Sandy Disaster Relief Grant for Historic Properties that is managed by the New Jersey Historic Trust, a state agency affiliated with the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs.

The trust has awarded $8 million in grants to Sandy-damaged historic properties, said DCA spokeswoman Lisa M. Ryan.

Robinson’s home on Wesley Avenue was originally owned by its namesake, Fisher, and built by him in 1881. Fisher was Ocean City’s mayor during the 1890s.

Robinson bought the rooming house because she wanted a residence at the shore with at least six units. She could live there, have friends stay over and rent out rooms to help pay for buying and maintaining the building.

Sandy destroyed Robinson’s laundry room and cost her the hot water heater. She was fortunate she had enough rooms, so that people originally planning to stay downstairs could make use of the rooms upstairs.

“I was devastated,” said Robinson, who initially reached out to friends and family after Sandy and asked for help.

The New Jersey Historic Trust grant reimbursed Robinson for money she spent to make repairs and improve the home.

Along with other money, the grant allowed Robinson to put a new roof on the house, replace the bottom windows, install new stairs, replace the original cedar porch with a mahogany porch, install three new doors, showers and bathtubs, have the stucco refinished and the house repainted, put a new fence in the back and buy a refrigerator, among other work.

The bulk of the restoration took place between spring 2017 and last fall. The work was completed in September.

To the north, if not for the fortunate placement of a single pipe on the exterior of the Andrews-Bartlett House, one side of the historic residence may have fallen over due to Sandy’s winds, said Tim Hart, Ocean County historian and director of engagement for the Tuckerton Seaport, where the house sits.

The house is a rare example in South Jersey of a circa 1750-90 Dutch-American frame house with a well-preserved 1824 Federal-style addition.

One of the walls of the house became detached from its foundation because the beams were loosened by the wind, Hart said.

“This is what the grant ($261,000) paid for, to stabilize the building and to get the envelope, the exterior, restored. The building was imminently ready to collapse,” said Hart, who wanted the outside of the building to be rainproof until more money can be secured.

If a partner can be found — for instance, a university or a nonprofit — to fix the building up, the house could be converted into a dormitory or a small office building for long-term use, Hart said.

The Tuckerton Seaport and the Barnegat Bay Decoy and Baymen’s Museum, which owns the house, need to raise $6,000 to have the house placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

If the house is placed on the register, bigger grants could be applied for, Hart said.

“Old buildings don’t survive if they don’t have a use. Everybody wants to turn it into a house museum, but there are 50,000 house museums in America. There are far too many of them,” Hart said.

PHOTOS of the Andrews-Bartlett House in Tuckerton


Tim Hart, left, director of engagement for the Tuckerton Seaport and Baymen’s Museum, and Jeff Daum, board president, look over beams on the top floor that indicate two styles of building, made at different times, at the historic Andrews-Bartlett House on the grounds of the seaport.

Pleasantville school leading the way on black-history curriculum

PLEASANTVILLE — The rhythmic beat of drums played softly in the background as several of Tamar LaSure Owens’ first-grade students painted colorful scenes of animals in Africa.

When she called out “One, Two,” the students stopped, stood and began to chant along with their teacher, relaying facts about the continent.

This is how LaSure Owens is implementing the state-mandated Amistad curriculum in her classroom and why she has become a model in the district, and the state, on how to incorporate African-American history.

“She is really the driving force here,” said Leeds Avenue Elementary School Principal Lisa Stuart-Smith. “She has taken this and embraced it and pushed and pushed and pushed.”

Last month, Superintendent Clarence Alston said the New Jersey Education Association was so impressed with LaSure Owens’ implementation this year of Amistad — named for the ship famously commandeered by African slaves — that she was selected for observation by state representatives.

Legislation approved in 2002 created the Amistad Commission to study, develop and promote programming that would incorporate African-American history into the public education system year-round. According to the New Jersey Department of Education, the law “calls on New Jersey schools to incorporate African-American history into their social studies curriculum.”

“She has gone cross-curricular with it. It’s just not part of the history program, it’s part of language arts, it’s part of music. She incorporates it throughout the curriculum, which I think is very necessary,” said Gary Melton, associate director of the executive office of the NJEA.

Melton said the union for education professionals has taken it upon themselves to see the Amistad curriculum put in place and began looking for inspirational educators to hold up as a standard. He said he was introduced to LaSure Owens’ work through another NJEA member and met her at the union’s annual convention in Atlantic City.

“With everything she is doing, it’s not just siloed into her classroom. It’s spreading out into other areas of the school,” Melton said.

There is hardly one square inch of the walls inside LaSure Owens’ classroom not covered in educational posters.

In the first-grade hallway, she has hung maps, drawings and posters of famous black Americans, including New Jersey representatives such as Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver and Atlantic Cape Community College President Dr. Barbara Gaba.

“We know that resources are minimal to none, so we’ve been writing grants, buying things, doing what has to be done, being resourceful,” she said.

LaSure Owens works closely with librarian Ruth Cohenson, and the two have created an Amistad section of the school library for students. This week, Cohenson worked with students on acting out the book “Too Much Talk,” a West African folk story the students will re-enact for their Black History Month event. She said the book is a way to introduce a culture and historical facts on a first-grade level.

Director of Curriculum Noelle Jacquelin said the district is using LaSure Owens’ passion for their gain. LaSure Owens has been giving professional development workshops on the curriculum and sharing ideas with other teachers in the district on how to incorporate Amistad.

“Right now, the implementation is so varied depending on what school district you are in,” Melton said. “African-American history is all of our history, so it’s important for us to have buy-in with all the districts so that they understand the importance.”

Stockton University professor of Africana studies Donnetrice Allison said she finds her students often talk about how little they learned about African-American history in grade school.

“What’s problematic about the current status of the Amistad Commission and what they’re doing is it’s so varied across school districts and among individual teachers that some students get more, some students get less. And it doesn’t seem like it’s clear what is required of them,” said Allison, who is also the Faculty Senate president.

She said that should change and is collaborating with other scholars and the New Jersey Bar Foundation to create a guidebook for educators to teach the material.

Melton said a legislative fix would be to have the state’s education standards reflect a mandate for the Amistad curriculum to be taught. He said the NJEA is working with other state education organizations to get the word out on resources.

A spokesman from the New Jersey School Boards Association said there is also a proposal before the State Board of Education to indicate whether Amistad and Holocaust instruction are included in social studies at a district during state reviews.

Jenny Rich, an assistant professor of education at Rowan University, said that although the law went into effect nearly two decades ago, the implementation of Amistad in K-12 education has been sporadic.

“The Amistad mandate is a really excellent attempt to help teachers become aware of diverse history, and at the same time, there’s no way for the state to check and see exactly what teachers are doing in terms of meeting the mandate, so it becomes very individualized,” she said.

Rich said the Amistad bill was noteworthy because it not only forces educators to come up with ways to speak to students about sometimes difficult topics like slavery, genocide and other “hard histories,” but it also shows students how historical events connect and relate to the present.

Kauffman co-defendant Mulholland sentenced to prison

MAYS LANDING — Joseph Mulholland, the first of seven co-defendants to admit to his part in the opioid drug ring connected to the 2012 death of radio host and veterans advocate April Kauffman, was sentenced Friday to four years in prison.

Judge Bernard E. DeLury Jr. denied Mulholland’s request Friday for a suspended sentence. DeLury decided instead to lower Mulholland’s charges by one degree.

“Mr. Mulholland, thankfully, in his present state is showing a different face to the world, to his friends, to his community. For that, society should be grateful,” DeLury said. “For the face he showed on the days in question, that are the subject of this conviction, are different.”

Ed Weinstock, Mulholland’s attorney, said his client had “a story of redemption,” having stayed sober since he checked himself into a rehab center in July 2013 after abusing drugs and alcohol for more than 30 years.

The courtroom benches were filled with about 15 people from Mulholland’s recovery network, including Mulholland’s AA sponsor and two men with a total of six years’ sobriety together who said Mulholland mentored them.

In arguing for a suspended sentence, Weinstock said Mulholland risked his life to testify.

“Anyone (who) thinks that his life won’t be at all in jeopardy for doing what he did, I think, quite frankly, is putting blinders on,” he said.

He also said Mulholland, 53, had no prior felonies and prison time would be a hardship considering his client’s health issues, which include heart disease.

“I put myself away,” Mulholland said before he was sentenced. “I’m trying to stay sober and clean. I just want to say I’m sorry I got involved with what I got involved with.”

Prosecutor Seth Levy acknowledged Mulholland was cooperative and his support in court Friday was overwhelming, but he reminded DeLury of Mulholland’s actions in the 2012 murder, including driving hitman Francis Mulholland — no relation — to the scene.

“That caused a lot of tragedy, and I think that at a sentencing like this, that needs to be said, that needs to be heard, it needs to be taken into your honor’s consideration.”

Mulholland’s longtime girlfriend, Bonnie Kennedy, said she did not expect DeLury to grant a suspended sentence, but she accepts the outcome.

“It’s over. I’m just glad it’s over, and so is Joe,” she said after the sentencing. “Everybody can kind of close the book now.”

Mulholland pleaded guilty to second-degree racketeering in June. He told DeLury he would get oxycodone from April Kauffman’s husband, James Kauffman, and sell it to Ferdinand “Freddy” Augello, the former Pagans motorcycle gang leader who was convicted of April’s murder in October.

Prosecutors said April Kauffman had threatened to expose her husband’s illegal activities, including the drug ring run out of his Egg Harbor Township medical practice, which led him to hire Augello to have her killed.

Mulholland is the latest co-defendant to be sentenced in the drug ring. On Thursday, Beverly Augello, 49, of Summerland Key, Florida, was sentenced to two concurrent five-year sentences for her role in the opioid ring and a separate charge for possession of cocaine. Those sentences will only be served if she re-offends during the next five years.

Also Thursday, sentencing for drug-ring co-defendant Glenn “Slasher” Seeler, 38, of Sanford, North Carolina, was postponed until Feb. 19.

Staff Writer Molly Bilinski contributed to this report.

PHOTOS: April Kauffman murder trial