City Council Members & the City Clerk, as they discuss a proposed Ordinance.
By Donald Wittkowski
One of the most glaring eyesores along Ocean City’s main entryway is headed for a meeting with the wrecking ball.
City Council took the first step toward acquiring the blighted former BP gas station on Ninth Street by introducing a $475,000 bond ordinance Thursday night to finance its purchase from a private owner.
Plans call for the current owner, SAE New Jersey Realty Co. LLC of Pennsauken, to demolish the building and remove the old underground gasoline storage tanks before turning over control to the city.
Chief Financial Officer Frank Donato said the city will landscape the land to create more green space along the Ninth Street corridor, the main artery in and out of town. The site will also be used for parking for the surrounding residential neighborhood on Revere Place, as well as for people who bike, walk and jog across the Ninth Street causeway.
The BP site is one of three abandoned gas stations marring the appearance of the Ninth Street gateway. Councilwoman Karen Bergman noted that the city is also negotiating to acquire the old Getty station next to BP to create even more green space.
The demolition of both sites would allow the city “to be rid of the eyesores of the empty gas stations,” Bergman said.
Meanwhile, the Keller Williams real estate firm plans to redevelop the former Exxon gas station on the opposite side of Ninth Street into a new multimillion-dollar office.
The Exxon site at Ninth Street and Bay Avenue is one of the first things visitors see as they enter town. The BP and Getty stations confront people as they leave the island via the Ninth Street causeway. City officials have long been concerned about the impression the derelict properties have made on tourists.
The bond ordinance introduced Thursday night is scheduled for a public hearing and final vote by Council on May 12. Donato said the city will probably take title to the BP site in June, after it is cleaned up and the bonds go to market to finance its purchase.
Separately, the city is negotiating to buy the old Getty property from owner Trinetra Realty Holdings New Jersey Delaware LLC of Princeton. Donato said the owner of the Bud’s Marina property next to the BP and Getty stations has also expressed interest in selling, which would give the city an even larger footprint for open space along the Ninth Street corridor.
Also Thursday, Council unanimously adopted a $75.1 million municipal budget for 2016 that includes major spending for road, drainage and dredging projects.
The budget will increase the local property tax rate by about a penny. For the owners of a typical Ocean City home assessed at $500,000, that would mean they would pay an extra $48 annually in local taxes.
Council President Keith Hartzell called the budget “historic,” noting that it was adopted without the contentious debate that marked the city’s municipal spending plans in the past.
“This is the most responsible budget I’ve ever seen,” Hartzell said.
Hartzell and other Council members stressed that the budget provides funding for a series of badly needed capital improvements while raising the local tax rate by only a small amount.
“I think it’s very tight. We made some good investments in this budget,” First Ward Councilman Michael DeVlieger said.
Big-ticket items include $12.7 million for road and drainage upgrades that will help alleviate tidal flooding and $10 million for dredging projects to clear out clogged lagoons and channels along the back bays.