SHIP BOTTOM — While Ship Bottom borough officials were asked to defend their decision to appeal the land use board’s approval for a use variance at the vacant CVS site, the applicant is committed to being part of the local community.
“(We) plan to vigorously defend the land use board approval,” Brian Wainwright, manager of Wainwright Amusement, said earlier this week. In addition to the council’s appeal, Wainwright has been served legal papers by Hartland Golf and Arcade and Our Endless Summer, located at opposite ends of the borough’s roughly 1-mile strip of Long Beach Boulevard, which each own one of the town’s two amusement licenses.
At the July 23 borough council meeting, resident John Hay asked officials why they chose to appeal the land use board’s April 17 decision to greenlight a use variance for the arcade-style family fun center being proposed for the vacant storefront near the Causeway Circle.
Councilmen Peter Rossi, Tom Tallon and Joe Valyo had voted yes on the June 25 motion to authorize the council’s attorney to begin proceedings to appeal an application by Wainwright Amusements that would include arcade-style games. Councilman David Hartman, whose family owns and operates Hartland Golf and Arcade, had recused himself from the vote. Council President Edward English and Councilman Robert Butkus, both sitting members on the land use board, had abstained. Neither English nor Butkus heard testimony on the amusement application when it was before the land use board.
Mayor William Huelsenbeck said the land use board and the council spent a lot of time and money developing a master plan that since 2000 has limited amusement licenses to two. The land use board and borough officials reaffirmed their commitment to two amusement licenses in recent years when the master plan was readopted, according to the mayor.
There is no arcade in Barnegat Light, Harvey Cedars or Surf City, and only one in Long Beach Township and one in Beach Haven, Huelsenbeck pointed out during his comments.
“We have two in 31 blocks,” he added. At one time, the borough was host to four arcades. It still has three miniature golf courses in addition to two arcades, the mayor said.
Hay countered, saying the existing arcades are small, pinball-style amusements. Wainwright Amusement is planning to renovate the existing commercial structure at Seventh Street and the Boulevard to house a game zone, an escape room, chaos room, XD theater and café. The lot’s dimensions include a 200-foot frontage on Long Beach Boulevard with a 160-foot depth and a total lot area of 32,000 square feet.
“Arcade games are the issue,” Huelsenbeck said. “If they want to have escape rooms, that’s no problem. It’s what the state views as games of chance.”
In April, a majority of the borough’s land use board agreed Wainwright Amusement met the criteria for a use variance at the site. A use variance was required because entertainment is not a permitted use in the borough’s general commercial district. That was the first step met to bring additional family entertainment to Ship Bottom. The next step involves a somewhat complex state gaming license process. The ordinance governing amusement licenses is separate from what the land use board could consider when it debated the use variance application.
— Gina G. Scala