City offers Ventnor West as Green Acres diversion

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Staff Writer

VENTNOR – Commissioners here are hoping a land appraisal will move the city closer to the good graces of state Green Acres program.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection program is requesting that the city perform a "diversion" to replace certified land that was removed from the state's inventory of open and recreation space.  At the Thursday, July 21 City Commission meeting, the governing body is scheduled to vote on whether to hire J. Paul Bainbridge for appraisal services related to a diversion application.

Mayor Theresa Kelly, speaking at the Thursday, July 14 workshop meeting, said the former Ventnor Ice Rink was paid for with Green Acres funding. That area is now the Ventnor Library and Cultural Arts Center and was completed in the summer of 2006.

"They now want us to give comparable land back for recreation purposes," Kelly explained July 14.

She said the city must use an appraiser certified by Green Acres and two interviews were conducted.

"Green Acres gives you a list you have to use," city engineer Matthew Doran said about the appraisers, adding that the ice rink site was 13,200 square feet.

Kelly said when a school or city accepts money from Green Acres, a partnership is formed with Green Acres having the final say of what is done with the site.

"When we came into office, Green Acres had a meeting with us and they explained we should have not taken the ice rink down," Kelly said.

She said Green Acres wants the city to replace the recreational facility that was once an ice rink with recreational land that is worth five times that amount.

In its place, the city is offering Ventnor West.

Kelly said 100 different species of birds live in Ventnor West, an area that runs along Wellington and Wissahickon avenues near the Ventnor Educational Community Complex.

"They might be willing to accept that in exchange for what was taken away," said Kelly.

A lot of money is riding on getting the deal done.

"When the first beach fill was done, the previous administration owed $511,000 to them, so they had said, 'If you pay that, we'll give you the money for the (fishing) pier’,” Kelly said. “Well we did, but then came the diversion and they said, 'No, we're not going to give you anything until you fix the diversion'.”

She believes the application to have a portion of Ventnor West declared a bird sanctuary will be accepted, adding that the city is owed nearly $2 million in funding for the fishing pier.

Solicitor Timothy Maguire said the appraisal is the last portion of the city's application. A public meeting explaining the scope of the project will follow.

Former Mayor Timothy Kreischer, who oversaw the construction of the new library, said at the workshop meeting's public portion that during his administration there was no deed restriction on the property.

"It was one public use for another. We weren't selling it, we weren't building on it, we weren't using it for commercial use, it was public use. That's what Green Acres was for," said Kreischer. "It was public use. You really should take a stand on that and tell them, 'no.' It's public use; it's a change in use."

On Friday, July 15, Kelly said she hopes this will be solution to a problem that was discovered when she was elected in May 2008.

"I would urge any municipality that accepts money from Green Acres, it is so much easier to call them and explain the situation and let them approve or disapprove what you're trying to do than to go through this; we are spending money here," Kelly said.

She said the appraiser will cost the city $7,500.

"I am hoping they will agree to let us do this and give them the area where we feel we can set up something pretty nice," Kelly said.

She said some sort of boardwalk could be constructed to allow school children, residents and visitors an easy way to observe the native birds.

"I think people would enjoy just going out there to see the various birds and the Audubon Society may advertise something in their mailings to members and probably bring people in. That would be good for our businesses and good for the city," Kelly said.

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