Funtown Pier will likely be relegated to the history books.
After members of the Seaside Park planning board did not vote to allow thrill rides in the town’s revised master plan Tuesday night, an attorney for the former pier’s owner said the iconic structure will not be rebuilt.
The pier was heavily damaged in Superstorm Sandy and destroyed in the 2013 boardwalk fire. Since the fire, the plot of land on which the amusement pier once stood has been vacant.
Attorney Stephen Leone told members of the board that in order to be economically viable, a rebuilt pier would have to be home to thrill rides up to 300 feet high. The borough’s zoning previously called for a 50 foot ride height, and though officials agreed to double the limit to 100 feet, it was apparently not enough to convince William Major, the property’s owner, that an investment in a new pier would be worth it.
Even if Major wanted to apply for a variance to allow the thrill rides, he would have to build the pier first while facing the possibility that he would never be able to make it profitable.
“You can’t build a $10 million pier subject to a zoning board’s decision that every ride you put up will have that limit,” said Leone.
Major will “develop plans to determine other uses that would generate the business the rides would have generated,” Leone said, adding that no determinations have been made as to the best use for the property in the absence of an amusement pier.
Planning board members voted to adopt the 100 foot height limit after residents lined up during a public comment period to voice their displeasure with Major’s proposal. The number of residents who opposed the proposed height increase vastly outnumbered the few who supported it.
“Are we going to endlessly compete with another town that has another agenda, different zoning and a different economic model?” asked Anne Hayes, an E Street resident, referring to Casino Pier in Seaside Heights, where thrill rides are allowed. “We should strive to be a family resort with beautiful beaches and peace and quiet.”
“I love this place. I loved it when I was a little kid, and I love it now – the rest of my whole family is moving down here,” said Vince Rhodes, an H Street resident. “We love it for many reasons, not the least of which is that it’s not Seaside Heights. If you can’t make a profit, you pack it up and you go.”
Residents said they were concerned with the noise that rides would generate, as well as the lights that would be mounted on them. They also raised an issue with crowds congregating in the borough late at night.
“I understand the economics and that it’s a business, but we’re really not talking about making the business happy, we’re talking about making all the residents of the town happy,” said Diana Giuliano.
“We struggled with it,” said Councilwoman Nancy Koury, who also sites on the planning board. “This has been a very hot topic for discussion ever since the fire.”
Koury said board members were unhappy that Major never proposed any alternative plans for the site, and that he left the room before the meeting ended.
“They didn’t care to listen to anything further we might have wanted to say in compromise,” she said.
Michael Giuliano, the board’s vice chairman, said the increase to a 100 foot height limit was all the board favored following trips to other seaside communities that have amusement piers and parks.
“We looked at everything up and down the coast, and we felt this was a compromise,” he said.
Mayor Robert W. Matthies said he still believes the pier may be rebuilt in one form or another.
“It’s hard to believe someone is going to walk away from this space,” he said.