County wants to see Open Space issue resolved in Wildwood

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WILDWOOD — Commissioner Pete Byron said he isn’t giving up hope that a lot on Pacific Avenue could be home to an ice rink or a park.

But after the city had to withdraw two ordinances, one issuing the $1.3 million purchase of 3400 Pacific Ave. and another ordinance allowing the purchase, after a petition drive, he said that “the city’s position doesn’t look too positive right now.”

The plan was for the city to purchase the Pacific Avenue property and be reimbursed from the county’s Open Space Fund. Byron said the city had then planned to look for sponsors to cover the cost of any improvements to the land, like the construction of a synthetic ice skating rink.

He said Wildwood taxpayers have for years paid in to the county Open Space Fund, but never saw any of that money come back.

“We could take advantage of the county’s open space money or we loose out on this tremendous opportunity,” Byron said.

Freeholder Will Morey, who sits on the open space board, said the county would like to see the issues resolved between the petitioners and the city.

“I hope some sort of compromise can be reached,” he said. “But that’s in Wildwood’s hands.”

Morey said the county Open Space Board had looked at the site on Pacific Avenue and had said that it had a favorable response to the proposal.

“The Open Space Review Board viewed your presentation favorably,” according to a letter from county lawyer James Arsenault. “The board agreed that, subject to a formal application and a determination of certified land value for the parcel, the board would recommend the Board of Chosen Freeholders provide reimbursement toward the acquisition to the city.”

“We thought it would be a much needed stimulus to the downtown,” Morey added.

Wildwood’s downtown has seen numerous attempts at revitalization, including the failed pedestrian mall and brightly colored sidewalks. Recently, through the Business Improvement District there have been new improvements to street signs, lights and sidewalks.

Part of the deal, Byron said, was that the city be reimbursed by the county. Commissioners had voted to bond $1.3 million for the purchase of the property.

Morey said the county had gone forward with two appraisals on the property and they were now in the hands of a review appraiser.

Morey said that he the two figures were “very close” to the $1.3 million the city wanted for the property.

“The numbers were in the $1.2 million and $1.3 million area. They were only apart by $100,000,” he said.

“The number is right on where we discussed,” said Byron. “Now the only issue is with a few naysayers that are spreading misinformation.”

Byron said the city hasn’t been given an ultimatum by the county or a deadline when it comes to using the Open Space Fund.

When asked if the city would consider putting the issue up for a voter referendum, like the petitioners wanted, Byron said that it is being considered.

“It is a shame that would have to go that expense to pay for an election to have the opportunity to get free money,” Byron said.

“I’m not saying that it isn’t an option,” Byron said of the referendum. “I believe if it was voted on in a referendum, it would be overwhelming approved. I’ve seen a lot of support for this project, not just with locals and taxpayers but county wide.”

“I don’t want to give up on this,” Byron said. “It would be a huge waste.”

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