EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Township officials have applied for a federal grant that would cover the cost of demolishing four eyesore motels in West Atlantic City, the blighted gateway to the resort that has long harbored illegal drug activity.
If approved, the four inns will be razed and converted into green space — whether that be parks, trails or restored wetlands — under a $2.4 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s flood mitigation grant assistance program. The program aims to mitigate flooding on properties severely and repeatedly inundated with water.
The township would acquire and tear down the Hi Ho Motel, Destiny Inn, Bay Point Inn and Budget Motel, bringing the total number of motels in West Atlantic City down from eight to four.
Owners of the motels did not respond to requests for comment.
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“When tidal surges come, those motels get flooded and the water has no place to go,” said Business Administrator Peter Miller. “It makes their rooms uninhabitable.”
Together, the motels filed 56 claims over a 10-year period, equal to $3.8 million, said Matt von der Hayden, the township’s deputy administrator. All are considered “severe repetitive loss” or “repetitive loss” properties. It’s the first time the township has applied to the federal program to level motels on the Black Horse Pike.
Demolishing the aging buildings will help the township eliminate blemishes along the entrance to Atlantic City that officials have hoped to beautify. A 2009 redevelopment plan that envisioned high-rise condos and nightlife in the area has been at a standstill for years.
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The last movement came in 2015, when the township used a $3 million grant from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority to tear down five West Atlantic City motels. Among them was the Golden Key Motel, where the bodies of four prostitutes were found nearly 10 years earlier.
The township will discuss more concrete plans for the properties if the FEMA grant is approved. Those blueprints could include recreational fields, vegetation or restored wetlands to absorb flood water.
“We can’t build anything there once the motels are demolished,” Miller said. “We think it should look like a green belt.”
In order for permeable green space to alleviate flooding on Route 40, Miller said the township would have to enter into an agreement with the state Department of Transportation to discharge water from the causeway and onto the four properties.
Further discussions haven’t begun and would be at least a year away.
“It’s one possibility. ... Our options are wide open,” Miller said. “There will be the ability for those spaces to absorb water.”
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In September, township officials sent letters to businesses along the pike in West Atlantic City asking whether they would participate in the program.
The application is being reviewed by the state before it’s sent to the federal government. By May, the township will know whether it passed the first round of the grant process.
“Now we wait to hear from FEMA,” von der Hayden said.
The idea of increasing open spaces to lessen the impact of flooding is gaining traction elsewhere, too. Atlantic County last year bought a 0.8-acre property in Mays Landing partially to keep a flood-prone buildable lot from being developed.
It’s also the concept behind the state’s Blue Acres program, in which the state purchases flood-prone properties from homeowners to restore the land to permeable open space.
Meanwhile, local officials have been lobbying the DOT to raise a three-mile stretch of the Black Horse Pike between West Atlantic City and West End Avenue, which leads into the resort. The process of raising a causeway is expensive and takes years.