Seaside Heights has experienced booming growth and redevelopment in recent years, with close to 20 aging motels having been demolished in favor of townhouses and single-family homes. Larger mixed-use projects from local developers that combine residential and commercial space have been proposed and approved by the planning board, and prominent investors such as K. Hovnanian have joined the development rush, but officials remain concerned over the pace of remaking the Boulevard business district.
The borough council on Wednesday voted in favor of a resolution that would direct the planning board to conduct an investigation into the property that once housed the infamous Bamboo Bar to determine whether it fits the criteria to be formally declared an area in need of redevelopment with the potential for condemnation purposes.
While designating a property as a redevelopment area does provide the framework for a town to begin the process of taking a property under eminent domain, it does not have to – and rarely does – come to such a disposition, it is often considered a warning shot to a property owner indicating that they must improve an empty or otherwise blighted parcel of land. In Seaside Heights, there are concerns that land owners have been leaving their properties dormant along the Boulevard while projects on other parts of the borough are flourishing.
Officials are particularly concerned over the lack of activity at the Bamboo site, located between Franklin and Lincoln avenues, as well as the site of the former “steel structure” between Webster and Hamilton avenues. The site where the steel superstructure of an unfinished nightclub complex languished for more than a decade has already been declared a formal redevelopment area and was condemned by the borough. Mayor Anthony Vaz said the borough is seeking updated timelines from the consortium of investors selected to develop the property.
The redeveloper of Bamboo’s former sister-club, Karma, demolished that building almost immediately after having his mixed-use plan approved by the planning board last month, and has told Shorebeat he is seeking to start construction as soon as possible. The owner of the former Karma property has no connection to the developer of the former Bamboo property.
Wednesday’s resolution focused on the Bamboo property, which was sold at auction in 2020 following the bankruptcy of Saddy Family LLC, a holding company operated by John Saddy, a longtime luminary in the Seaside Heights nightclub industry. The parcel was sold for $1,058,000, according to county tax records, and the vacant lot is currently assessed at $1,115,600. It is currently owned by TKD Holdings, which is being represented by one of the principals of the company, Rudy Daunno III, who is acting as broker.
The company launched a website in 2022, marketing what was envisioned as a mixed-use complex with 48 residential units with luxurious amenities as well as ground-floor commercial space. In an homage to the history of the property, the complex is tentatively named “The Lofts at Bamboo.”
The project, however, has never been formally proposed to the planning board. The property has remained empty and increasingly covered in vegetation since it was demolished in late 2021. Following the unanimous passage of the resolution Wednesday, the planning board will be directed to have an engineering firm survey the lot to determine whether it qualifies as a redevelopment area under state law. If the board determines it does qualify, the borough council would be empowered to create and pass a formal redevelopment plan, which would set timelines, parameters and financial guarantees that the land will be developed according to plan. If the land owner does not comply, the property would be subject to being taken by the borough, in which case the property owner would be paid its fair market value and another party would have the opportunity to be declared redeveloper.
Alternatively, the current property owner could submit its own application to develop the empty lot, but would be required to prove they have sufficient financial resources to complete development on a prescribed schedule.
“If we want to design the Boulevard the way we envision it, we need shovels in the ground,” said Mayor Anthony Vaz, adding that he does not want to repeat the mistakes of previous administrations that did not complete planned revivals of the central business district in town. “We can’t have vacant lots in that area – the Boulevard is a dream that is going to come to come to fruition.”
Daunno appeared at the meeting Wednesday, saying he and a business partner had conducted research on redevelopment areas and “wanted to know where we stand.”
“We’re not exactly sure what the resolution would mean to us as property owners,” he said, adding that he believed a property could remain vacant for 10 years before being declared an area in need of redevelopment.
“That is one of the criteria whether it is vacant land or not,” said Borough Attorney Jean Cipriani.
The criteria for a redevelopment designation is vast and codified in Title 40 of the state code.
“Our interest isn’t to keep the property vacant land,” Daunno told council members before the vote.
Cipriani said the matter will now be placed in the hands of the planning board, which will make a determination that will return to the council for action. During that period, however, the current owner is free to submit their own development proposal.
“If there is information that you think the planning board needs to have … that is the place to give it,” Cipriani said.
Vaz said some officials have become frustrated with the pace of projects proposed along the Boulevard.
“[Developers] took some nasty properties down, but we do need answers,” he said. “They gave us indications, in some cases, that things were going to start right away and it hasn’t happened.”
Vaz also said officials would continue to communicate with the owners of the former “steel structure” site to determine if there are any delays or hold-ups preventing construction from moving forward.
“We’re going to work hard on that for the next month to see where everybody is,” said Vaz. “We’d also like to know if someone is having a problem we don’t know about – it could be a permitting issue or a state issue – and maybe we can help. We’re going to sit down with them to see what’s going on, because we need some timelines.”