The former Merge nightclub, once a popular nightspot with lines out the door, is now an empty, deteriorating building more reminiscent of urban blight than seashore fun.
Seaside Heights officials, later this month, will move to have the site formally declared an area in need of redevelopment, a move that they hope will spur the site’s owner John Saddy, to reach a deal to sell the property before the borough will be forced to initiate condemnation proceedings.
The borough’s planning board, on March 22, “will have the first bite of the apple,” said Borough Administrator Christopher Vaz.
The planning board will tasked with hearing testimony from the borough’s planner and rendering a decision as to whether the site meets the legal definition of an area in need of redevelopment – a legal term often used to rid a city of urban blight, but one that can utilized by any municipality in New Jersey with abandoned or deteriorating businesses. Vaz said the planner the borough hired has already submitted a report detailing how the Merge site does, indeed, meet the criteria for the declaration.
“The planning board will render an opinion on it, and then it goes to council and they do what they have to do,” said Vaz. “Once that is done, it opens up the tools.”
Those tools include granting the town the opportunity to offer tax abatements from new developers, the power to determine zoning that would allow a project to go forward and, if necessary, power to condemn the site and then sell it directly to a developer.
“We don’t want to do that,” said Vaz, of the condemnation option. “We would much prefer to hook up a developer with the owner and us use the tax incentives and zoning incentives to bridge whatever gap in the sales price, if any.”
The process of having the area declared an area in need of redevelopment began last spring, and also included the steel structure owned by Vincent Craparotta, Saddy’s competitor and former business partner.
Vaz said the borough proceedings March 22 will not include that building since officials are honoring a request by its owner to give him extra time to put a plan together. Vaz said the municipality will tackle that plot of land more aggressively come spring.