Thursday, September 28, 2023

In the Crest, A Confederacy of Competing Interests

By C.M. Mattessich

WILDWOOD CREST – For those who analyze problems by identifying the competing interests at stake, the standing-room-only Oct. 6 Wildwood Crest Planning Board meeting was both a feast and a challenge.
For the first hour of its 4-hour marathon session, the board consid-ered recommending that the Borough Council adopt key new development requirements applicable to many of the Crest’s motels. According to many moteliers, the amendments will limit their ability to develop or sell their properties in anything other than their present form.
A strong example of competing in-terests occurred early in the evening, when one board member heatedly asked another whether he would support the amendments if he hadn’t already sold his own motel.
When the board allowed public comment, a series of motel owners, who appeared to have been desig-nated in advance, read prepared statements encouraging a “continued open dialogue” between the borough and motel owners.
Comments also were offered by a Convention Center representative who said the center’s revenues will suffer if a significant number of ho-tels and motels close.
A volunteer firefighter attributed low attendance at the recent fire-fighter convention to recent motel closings. When he suggested that the closings also resulted in a shorter parade, however, some audience members whispered their own view that the parade suffered from the ban against sirens.
Not address by the board or any speaker was whether losses might be offset if motels are converted to con-dominium uses supporting a vacation rental economy.
With only one dissenter, the rec-ommendation was approved.
As the large crowd disbursed, mut-terings were common among motel operators. “They were perfect gen-tlemen in there!” one said in exas-perated fashion. “Waste of time!” others said.
“You got an application on now?” some were asking.
Some owners were remaining be-hind for that reason.
Over the next few hours, the board heard eight applications by current motel owners – many involving long-standing, oceanfront gems – seeking approval to convert their motels into residential condominiums.
In all, owners of some 386 motel rooms sought approvals for conver-sion to 191 condominiums.
Attorney Ron Stagliano and archi-tect Kevin Young presented each of the eight applications. All applica-tions were approved.
Bob Davenport of the Biscayne Mo-tel, who has been in the motel busi-ness since 1947, was one of the applicants. “They’re driving us out of business,” he said of Borough efforts to limit development options without providing incentives for moteliers to continue in their present form. “We don’t want to do this.”
The sentiment was echoed by other owners in statements to the Herald.
Many, even those who think it’s too late to save the industry, noted its unique nature. The day after the hearing, the son of The Olympic’s owners, who was carrying a large bag of motel laundry over his shoulder, said that his parents would try to hold out “at least a few years” and noted: “This is about family. How many businesses can a son work with his parents?”
Anthony Polizzi of the Coliseum Ocean Resort told the Herald: “My wife and I are young. We’d love to keep doing this.” But they’re con-cerned, he said, about the future. “It’s nice for anyone to have options in their life, and the new zoning was taking our options away.”
As with operators of other loca-tions, Polizzi could not say whether his family actually would move to-ward demolition and redevelopment of the site. “We basically bought time,” he said of the application.
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