By Donald Wittkowski
Even some of the trees on the 34th Street corridor entering Ocean City are ugly. Bent, gnarled and twisted, they look like sad victims of a hurricane.
Planted in a grassy strip on the side of the road, the pine trees are part of the haphazard landscaping that was supposed to beautify this gateway into town. In truth, they are an eyesore.
“They look bad,” City Councilman Bob Barr said bluntly.
To Barr, the trees have come to symbolize the overall blight marring the 34th Street artery, the second-busiest entranceway into Ocean City.
He wants to see the corridor given a facelift to transform it into a more inviting gateway for visitors in “America’s Greatest Family Resort,” as Ocean City touts itself in its tourism slogan.
“This is not very welcoming,” Barr said. “When you go to Disney World, you enter a fantasyland. While we’re not a fantasyland, we are America’s Greatest Family Resort. We need something that is befitting of the great town that we are.”
Adding to the unappealing scenery along the 34th Street corridor are the orange road signs, pipes and heavy construction equipment related to a utility project that has left part of the road dug up and under a detour. Barr said the utility work is expected to take a few more months before it is completed.
Even after the construction equipment is long gone, the entryway will remain blemished. Barr objects to the deteriorated pine trees, as well as some of the “unseemly signs” that clutter the entryway. In their place, he wants attractive new landscaping, perhaps some evergreens.
“I’m not looking for something that costs a lot of money,” he said. “But I think we need and deserve better, especially when you’re talking about the second major entryway into the city.”
Barr briefly mentioned his disappointment with the appearance of 34th Street during City Council’s meeting on Jan. 25. He spoke extensively about it during an hourlong interview Thursday with OCNJDAILY.com.
The 34th Street corridor ties in with Roosevelt Boulevard to link Ocean City’s southern end with neighboring Upper Township. The roadway, including the 34th Street Bridge, spans about two miles from Route 9 in Upper Township’s Marmora section to Bay Avenue in Ocean City.
The road is under Cape May County’s control, which prevents Ocean City from simply using its own money to spruce it up. Barr has been talking with county and Upper Township officials on a plan to team up with Ocean City to give the 34th Street-Roosevelt Boulevard corridor a makeover. He said everyone has been receptive so far, agreeing to discuss the issue in more detail this spring.
“It’s complicated, because so many entities have to be involved,” Barr explained. “It’s government. The city wants its say. I imagine the county wants to have its say. I want the community to be involved as well.”
Barr is the Fourth Ward councilman representing the southern part of Ocean City. His house on Roosevelt Boulevard directly overlooks the 34th Street entryway. He stressed that he does not want to see the corridor improved for personal reasons. He said he has no plans to sell the house where he has lived for the past 26 years.
“This is where I live. I hear this from my constituents. People are asking me to do something. They say how poorly it looks. I couldn’t agree more,” Barr said of the deteriorated condition of the 34th Street entryway.
Barr pointed to Ocean City’s Ninth Street artery, the primary route into town, as something that might serve as a model to give 34th Street some pizazz. Mayor Jay Gillian has plans to transform three former gas station sites along Ninth Street into quaint, landscaped parks.
“It’s a good plan, and something becoming of Ocean City. We should have something just as nice and well thought out as Ninth Street,” Barr said of 34th Street.
Impressive views of the bays, marshlands and other scenery unfold from the top of the Route 52 Causeway Bridge heading into town on Ninth Street. Barr said the inviting Ninth Street entryway elicits “wows” from visitors.
But there is no such reaction from motorists arriving now on the 34th Street causeway, he noted.
“At the apex of the (34th Street) bridge, you can see this causeway. If you’re a first-time visitor coming into Ocean City, it’s not going to make you say, ‘Wow!’’’ he said.