Dateline MARCH 2008:

March brought close spacing of two holidays as a St. Patrick’s Day celebrated on  Monday was followed by Easter the very next Sunday and Ventnor’s own Jagielky’s Candy was featured on WMGM-40.   Enjoy the behind-the-scenes action captured by the broadcast video footage, as the store’s proprietor and employees are shown whipping up its famous Irish Potatoes, with chocolate Easter eggs being made almost simultaneously!

March also heralded an event Ventnor has not seen in over a decade – a fully competitive municipal election featuring two complete opposition slates of candidates.  The challenger slate named ENOUGH IS ENOUGH: It’s Time For A Change (or EIE) features candidates Theresa Kelly, John Piatt, and Stephen Weintrob. (Click here to view WMGM-40 story and video about their announcement)  Links have been posted at the top of this website’s Homepage to allow people to view continuously updated information about each slate of candidates.  The incumbent Commissioners Kreischer, Vespertino and Schafer had announced in January they would seek re-election as a slate calling itself PASSION INTEGRITY EXPERIENCE (or PIE). 

Election “news” was quickly generated as a controversy erupted on March 18th about impermissible and/or illegal stuffing of partisan volunteer forms into teacher mailboxes at the VECC by an unknown supporter of the PIE slate, only to be followed the following week by another newsworthy incident attracting media coverage, as the City of Ventnor building code official issued a citation to the owner of the Ventnor Cinema for allowing the ENOUGH IS ENOUGH slate’s sign to be put on the marquee of the now-defunct movie house.  A poster to our W♥V VENTNOReVOICE Forums broke that news on March 28th and the following day’s Atlantic City Press confirmed the story.  The matter ended with the city backing down from enforcement as the challengers and theater owner stood firm in declining to remove the signs. W♥V has since learned that there were lawyers, behind the scenes, prepared to take this up as a First Amendment court case if the city pressed ahead with its demand for sign removal.

The early days of March also brought the initial information about a matter that was to become our first featured “Hot Issue” on the website – the apparent plans to create a dredge spoils dump site (or CDF for “Contained Disposal Facility”) on 12 acres in Ventnor West’s 170 acres of mixed uplands/wetlands “habitat” area.  As facts were ought out about a proposal that has seen city officials quietly pursuing permits with little public awareness, a decision was made to invite Matt Steinen of Ventnor Environmental Research Group to be our guest speaker on this topic at the April “First Saturday” regular monthly open meeting of our organization.  That meeting was attended by approximately 50 people, most of them hailing from the neighborhood close to Ventnor West and previously unaware of these plans by the city.

Other March News

New Pier.  A quick photography trip to check up on the progress of the pier construction project at mid-month found the new pilings installed, and the structure awaiting installation of the new planks with the timetable for construction of the new Clubhouse by city workers expected to be some time thereafter.  An earlier interview given by city engineer Richard Carter raised questions about whether there would be change orders for new railings, and at what cost, as rumors of $200,000 estimates for “added costs” circulated.  Engineer Carter later contested the amount as being nothing more than “rumor” at a February Commission meeting and, stating that there were no approved change orders, appeared to back away from the speculation engendered by his quoted comments of January in a published newspaper article.    

Redevelopment.   In the uptown area there have been impressive signs of progress on one building (pictures from late last fall and March 2008 shown here) which is undergoing major renovations by local resident Eileen Barker.  This came about after a drastically curtailed Redevelopment Plan was put in place last fall, with significant but not complete removal of the threat of eminent domain “takings” being exercised, as per the Mayor’s comments at both of the November 2007 Commission meetings on the 1st and 15th.   In addition, there has been a sale of the former Twin Glass building on Baton Rouge Ave.    That location was formerly owned by Ventnor Investment Properties, the firm under Mark Alsentzer which took over a substantial number of the Redevelopment Zone buildings which had been acquired between 2001 through 2004 by variously-named Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs) in which he was “silent partner” investor/incorporator and which had become folded into the Alliance Companies.  Alliance had then gone on to become named by city officials as a co-lead redeveloper with Pulte Homes in June 2004.   The new owner of the property is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) with plans to demolish the existing building and erect church facilities with ground-level parking.In the next block up the street from the impressively evolving Barker building, controversy came to surround the larger-scale development planned for where deteriorated apartment buildings now stand. (See picture of block.)  The developer, Mark Alsentzer, had promised to vacate the buildings and demolish them.  This was to make way for new construction of 24 luxury condos which obtained variance approvals during January.  The city asked the developer to make substantial progress within 90 days to demolish the structures. In a sometimes contentious debate during the Commission meeting of February 21st, which was videotaped and edited into segments on YouTube for website visitors to view, one local resident questioned whether the developer would ever make good on his promises.  The Ventnor resident questioned the Mayor’s publicly announced intention to make a gift of city-acquired property in the middle of that block, at 5008 Ventnor Ave., to this developer, instead of asking that Alsentzer purchase the building from the city.  The citizen believed the $205,000 of the original purchase price for the property would be better spent in 20 grants of $10,000 each to full-time homeowners in that neighborhood, spurring their efforts to upgrade their homes and obtain certificates confirming that they met code.

Rather surprising were the responses of city officials when the resident suggested that the developer being given the gift of property -- now worth perhaps as much as $400,000 based on a recent sale of identical adjacent building -- might never pound so much as a single nail into “new construction” on the site.  The resident opined that Alsentzer might only seek to “flip” the property as buildable ground enhanced in value by the grant of variances.  City Solicitor John Scott Abbott opined that it didn’t matter if that happened.  The Solicitor and Commissioners seemed to be of the opinion that vacating tenants from the buildings and demolishing them would be adequate “value” in exchange for the gift.  The Mayor had earlier been quoted as stating that enhanced tax ratables of about $10 Million from new construction, versus the approximate $2 Million ratables of the block with the old buildings, were the economic justification for making the gift.  It anticipated higher tax revenues.  In this altered view, a “flip” might produce prompt sale of bare land and construction by a new buyer; or, it could produce reduced tax ratables derived from cleared land if there is no action toward construction. 

Demolition would, however, remove the specter of blighted buildings from the area.  At the January 9th Planning Board meeting which granted variances necessary to construct the 24-condo luxury structure, city officials had called upon Mr. Alsentzer to provide a 90-day progress report and appeared hopeful that demolition might be imminent by that time.   However, if that progress report was to be made at the originally scheduled April 9, 2008, meeting of the Planning Board, then it won’t occur in that setting.  A small notice in the Downbeach Current of April 3rd carried the news that the April 9th Planning Board meeting had been cancelled.  The next scheduled meeting is for May 14th, the day after the Municipal Election. 

Other news as to Redevelopment relates to the city’s announcement of a Name-That-Neighborhood Contest, under the helm of Planning Board member Julie Mealo.  The contest’s deadline for submission of proposed new neighborhood names was set as April 11th.  Announcement of the winning name, as chosen by a panel of judges, was to be in early May.      

As March gives way to April, news from Ventnor promises to heat up as the weather gets warmer and election day gets closer. Website visitors are encouraged to check the Forums to find evolving news and commentary!