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Sunday, May 26, 2024

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Developers Weigh in on Project Delays in Wildwood

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By Shay Roddy

This is the second of two articles on Wildwood development delays. In the first article (https://bit.ly/3boVGWs), political leaders urged the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for a swift resolution to an environmental permit problem delaying multiple Wildwood projects. 
WILDWOOD – Developers were thrown a curveball, in February, when the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) told them their sites would immediately be frozen until they completed a lengthy and expensive permitting process, which required them to adhere to more stringent restrictions on the type of development. 
One of the developers, Joseph Byrne, said he was invited to a Zoom call with the DEP May 7 and credited the DEP with trying to help with the process for his three separate Coastal Area Facility Review Act (CAFRA) applications, which he never expected to need in the first place.
“DEP has assigned a liaison between the technical review portion and our team to help us navigate the system, which they didn’t have to do. They don’t have to get on the Zoom with me tomorrow. It’s not a part of the process. They’re doing that to try to help us stay on point, to get our permits through the system, so it’s a credit to DEP that they’ve stepped up and are spending the energy and manpower to try to help us get approved,” said Byrne. 
He also praised the bipartisan political support for development in Wildwood and said he is glad the city, the DEP, and state politicians appear to be taking the issue seriously.
“Wildwood has always been slipping through the cracks, year after year. You look at all the investment over the years in all these other towns to the north and south – Cape May, Wildwood Crest and Diamond Beach, North Wildwood, Avalon and Stone Harbor – some of the most affluent towns in New Jersey. It’s time people pay attention and start to invest in Wildwood,” Byrne said.
Mahesh Shah, who’s developing a 30-unit boardwalk hotel, with retail space and a 27-car garage, is represented by local attorney Ron Gelzunas Jr., who said he is not in on the CAFRA matter, referring questions about it to his client, who he said could usually be reached at the Waves Motel, in Wildwood. 
A receptionist there said he hadn’t seen Shah for a couple weeks but would get him a message right away through the property’s general manager. 
Shah did not respond to the inquiry. 
Developer Niru Dhruva, with Diamond Beach Properties, responded to an email from the Herald, asking for his perspective for this story by calling a reporter to discuss it. 
Dhruva, who proposed a 74-unit hotel, with 75 parking spaces, said, so far, only the parking lot is ready.
He said the coastal jurisdictional determination letter he received had little consequence, as far as timeline, because he was “looking to put the project on hold anyway,” after funding fell apart when the bank balked at lending the money needed after the onset of the pandemic.
Dhruva said he was invited to a Zoom meeting with the DEP to discuss the matter May 5, but was sick and did not attend.
Dhruva suggested a conference call with an agent he said filed paperwork and permit applications on his behalf, who he said could give more information about the issue.
After placing this reporter on hold to call the agent, he returned to say he was unavailable and he no longer wanted to participate in this story on the advice of his attorney. 
What’s Next?
For now, the construction of the two proposed hotels is on hold. Demolition of the old St. Ann School and construction of the townhouses there stopped, awaiting CAFRA approval.
Demolition of the 3600 block of Pacific Avenue, including the former 2nd Street Annie’s, M.T. Bottles and Fairview, is on hold, pending CAFRA permits. Work to remove asbestos was underway before demolition was stopped, said Byrne.
“We were told they’re going to get moving quickly on it. For me, the most important thing is getting these buildings down,” state Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-3rd) said. “We’ve got to get the buildings down now. We’re hoping to get those approvals. It’s May now; we’re hoping soon.” 
Byrne converted the existing building, at 3800 Pacific Ave., into a bar called The Wood, which he said will open this summer to generate some revenue and create jobs in the town. The Wood opened last year, in an empty lot on Lincoln Avenue, beside the old Fairview.
Byrne said it’s far from fulfilling the number of jobs he hoped to create with multiple construction sites operating simultaneously, but it’s still creating a handful of jobs in town and some cash coming in.
Sweeney doesn’t seem to think it will be too long until those construction jobs are in place. He said he has faith in the DEP’s commitment to resolving the matter, and after the buildings come down, his next focus will be working to make Wildwood a qualified municipality.  
He said when one sees the job Mayor Peter Byron and commissioners are doing in Wildwood, “you want to help.”
“A healthy Wildwood lifts all boats,” he added.
To contact Shay Roddy, email sroddy@cmcherald.com.

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