After nearly two hours of testimony that included public comment supporting and opposing a plan to bring a family entertainment center to the vacant CVS building at the Causeway Circle, the application was approved April 17 by a majority of the Ship Bottom Land Use Board.
“We look forward to being a part of the Ship Bottom community,” Brian Wainwright, manager of Wainwright Amusement, which owns Fantasy Island in Beach Haven and which assumed ownership of the former CVS building earlier this year, said immediately following the meeting. “We were here to listen. We want to be an asset to the community.”
And they did listen, agreeing to reduce the hours of operation from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., instead of the proposed midnight closing time; reiterating their commitment to safety by having security guards on the premises, and agreeing to no major or minor renovations at the site.
In approving the application, the land use board, by a vote of 5-2, agreed Wainwright Amusement met the criteria for a use variance at the Long Beach Boulevard site. A use variance was required because entertainment is not a permitted use in the borough’s general commercial district.
Still, the board’s approval is the first step Wainwright Amusement must meet in order to see the family entertainment center come to fruition. Nearly two decades ago, the borough decided to limit the number of amusement licenses to two. Hartland Golf & Arcade and Our Endless Summer, located at opposite ends of the borough’s roughly 1-mile strip of the Boulevard, own each of the two licenses.
For Wainwright Amusement’s plans, which include renovating the existing commercial structure at Seventh Street and the Boulevard to house a game zone, an escape room, chaos room, café and XD theater, the company must first receive approval from the borough council. The ordinance governing licensing is separate from what the land use board could consider when it debated the merits of the use variance application.
What the board was reminded it should take into consideration was the most recent passage of the borough’s master plan. It was approved again last year, reaffirming the board’s nearly 20-year stance on limiting amusement in the borough in an effort to keep the focus on being a family resort.
It was that limitation that Dennis M. Galvin, a Freehold attorney representing the owners of Hartland Golf & Arcade and Our Endless Summer, hammered home during his time presenting his clients’ case.
Andy Thomas, the professional planner retained by Galvin’s clients, testified the borough, in his opinion, contemplated the amusement use and decided that two sites in the borough were plenty so they created regulations.
“It was a direct response to us,” Paul Wood, who owns Endless Summer, testified, noting that he’s never been able to expand his business.
Galvin conceded Wood could have made an application before the land use board, but he didn’t want to go outside the bounds of what the borough put into place. He also told the board prior to approving the Wainwright application that if they did move forward with it, his client would be submitting an application of his own.
— Gina G. Scala