ABSECON – The long-stalled over-55 Absecon Gardens residential complex may remain delayed through March after developers offered updated plans at a public hearing held during City Council’s Jan. 17 meeting.
City Council scheduled the hearing to hear officials from Boardwalk Design and Development of Margate discuss provisions contained in a proposed 26-page redeveloper’s agreement between the firm and the city.
During the three-hour meeting, Boardwalk Design representatives proposed scaling back the number of units at Absecon Gardens and creating enough on-site parking spots to serve the project’s needs.
Under the proposed agreement, Absecon Gardens would be scaled back to 58 units, including 12 affordable housing units featuring two or three bedrooms.
In addition to completing work on the partially built buildings at the site, the agreement calls for the creation of town homes along School Street, said Jason Sciullo, a licensed planner who represented Boardwalk.
Absecon Gardens is located between Mechanic, Church and School streets and New Jersey Avenue on the site of the old H. Ashton Marsh School.
The one-bedroom units would be about 900 square feet, said attorney Rick DeLucry, a land use lawyer representing Boardwalk Development. Two-bedroom units would be 1,200 square feet, and the town home units would be 2,100 square feet.
City Council tabled a vote on the project, and instead approved sending the proposal back to the Planning Board for review.
Councilman Chris Seher said council didn’t want to lock itself into a redeveloper’s agreement without knowing if the Planning Board could require additional changes to the project.
He estimated the Planning Board would review the proposal in February. Council could get another look at it at its first meeting in March.
Absecon Gardens was first approved almost nine years ago for 85 units to serve an over-55 community, according to Planning Board President Jerry Savell. Council envisioned a community where seniors could peacefully live and enjoy shopping in the nearby downtown area. City leaders said the project could create jobs and spur growth downtown.
However, the worldwide economic collapse of 2008 and the resulting demise of the housing market created a glut of senior housing. As a result, the state Legislature created laws allowing developers to apply to lift age restrictions in order to make housing projects profitable, DeLucry said.
“If people genuinely believe there is a senior market out there, please make an offer to buy the project from us,” DeLucry said. “We are open to offers.”
Boardwalk Developers entered the scene two years ago and received approval for an all-age community of 74 units, DeLucry said. In lieu of building affordable housing units, the developer planned to pay the city a negotiated amount of money. Boardwalk is no longer considering that option and wants to construct affordable housing.
However, the chairman of the Planning Board and residents represented by the Save Absecon Committee say the project should remain a 55-and-older community.
“People have to give it a chance,” said Jerry Savell, Absecon Planning Board chairman. “The senior market is coming back. The project will come to fruition. We don’t really need to change any ordinance. It’s complete.”
Savell said the Planning Board’s previous approval came after four members abstained from voting under legal advice they received because there was a chance the project could end up in the courts.
“It would be interesting to see if the Planning Board approves the project this time,” he said. “It would be interesting to see what happens then.”
Meanwhile, members of the Save Absecon Committee plan to head back to Appellate Court Feb. 12 to continue their fight to challenge a court ruling allowing the project to proceed as an all-age community.
Save Absecon Committee President Joe Courter of Hay Road said there is a market for senior housing in the wake of Hurricane Sandy’s devastating effects last year on senior-populated seaside communities.
His group has raised more than $30,000 to pay its court costs.
DeLucry said Absecon Gardens’ third-generation proposal is a way for the developer to address and satisfy residents’ concerns and attempt to move forward.
However, a number of residents from the surrounding community spoke out against the updated plans, saying that even a scaled-back, reincarnated version of Absecon Gardens would drastically lower their quality of life.
Several residents said opening up residency to all ages would create noise, along with traffic issues on the nearby tiny streets that date back to Absecon’s earliest times. Those streets were only made wide enough to accommodate foot traffic and horse and wagon.
Mechanic Street is so tiny, “you literally can’t get through if a trash truck is on this street,” said Carey Yakita, who lives on Church Street. “You have to wait until they get done because you can’t get by.”
She said the added congestion on her once-quiet street would negatively affect area property values.
Susan Rasera, also of Church Street, said residents are pleased that the Absecon Gardens project was scaled back, but remain upset that it will be opened up to residents of all ages.
“There is no room for recreation there,” Rasera said. “Now we will have children wandering around town looking for something to do.”
Rasera said she knows of many seniors who want to live at Absecon Gardens.
“We can provide names of people who want to live there,” Rasera said. “But it doesn’t change the fact that it should officially be an over-55 community.”
DeLucry and Courter both said they believe it will be several months before they get a ruling in their court case.
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