An attorney for Vincent Craparotta, the owner of the steel structure widely regarded as an eyesore along the Boulevard in Seaside Heights, urged the borough council this week not to vote on an ordinance condemning his client’s property, insisting he still wants to develop the site despite more than a decade of dormancy and decay.
The attorney, Edward Liston, said Craparotta filed his latest plan for the site, located between Webster and Hamilton avenues, on Oct. 13. The plan, a mixed-use retail and residential building, was scheduled for a hearing before the planning board, however the hearing was canceled for lack of a quorum. Liston insinuated the cancellation may have been planned, but stopped short of accusing the borough of orchestrating the meeting’s cancellation.
“We can make it comply with the plan rather easily,” Liston said of his client’s proposal, referring to the redevelopment plan for the site that has already been adopted by the council. “We can make it comply in its next iteration.”
The proposal, as previously submitted, does not comply with the redevelopment plan due to the inclusion of parking on the first floor, parking within 20-feet of the Boulevard right-of-way, and an upper-story setback that deviates from the borough’s order.
Craparotta has put forth numerous plans for the site, none of which have ever come to fruition. Meanwhile, the rusting superstructure of what was supposed to be a pool club and entertainment complex has deteriorated for more than 12 years. Since 2008, permits that were outstanding allowed Craparotta to extend inaction on the site under laws passed in the wake of that year’s financial crisis, then again after Superstorm Sandy. Those laws extending previous permits have since expired, leading the borough to declare the site blighted and in need of redevelopment, which enables its condemnation.
The ordinance passed Wednesday authorize eminent domain, and in another vote, the borough council passed a bond measure for $2 million to fund the taking. The borough, if it acquires the site, would then sell the land to a designated redeveloper who can prove financial backing as an effective reimbursement.
In what could be construed as an acknowledgement that financing is not in place for the latest proposal, Liston said his client may “develop a plan that someone else can develop.”
“It’s unnecessary for you to condemn the property utilizing public funds,” said Liston, adding that his client is “ready to go” ahead with a planning board hearing.
“We can bring this project in, in complete compliance with the redevelopment plan,” Liston said. “At least give us a chance to take this plan to the planning board and see what they think.”
The argument did not sway the borough council, which voted unanimously to condemn the site and allocate funds for the eminent domain taking. There may, however, still be a window for Craparotta to develop the site on his own, however proof of financial wherewithal to do so is mandated in the borough’s redevelopment plan.
“The passing of the ordinance on second reading does not itself create the condemnation,” said Borough Attorney Jean Cipriani. “That exercise is accomplished through the filing of a complaint in Superior Court. We can discuss the time of filing the complaint, which leaves open options to the governing body.”
Craparotta also has the option of submitting a bid along with other development firms.
“The procedure for going through the designation as a redeveloper is available,” said Cipriani, telling Liston that his client may “choose to engage in that process.”
No officials commented on the vote on the advice of Cipriani. Craparotta and Liston both left the council chambers as soon as the vote took place.