AVALON — After hours of testimony from neighbors lambasting the idea, Avalon’s Planning and Zoning Board said no to a use variance needed for a proposed restaurant and event venue in the dunes.
The 6-1 vote came just after midnight, finishing a grueling six-hour meeting that started at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
This was the second meeting on the application from TK Holdings, which is wholly owned by former Philadelphia Flyer Tim Kerr. His son, Garret Kerr, and attorney Cory Gilman presented the plans to the board. They envisioned demolishing the building at 2800 Boardwalk, which includes a pizzeria, arcade and ice cream shop, to be replaced by a restaurant with expanded seating inside and on a rooftop deck.
The new building would have occupied the same footprint as the existing building but would have increased the height, with a second story on a portion of the building. At the meeting, Garret Kerr agreed to limit the seating capacity of the new building.
As proposed, the application required several variances, including for the number of parking spaces. It was set to rely on the municipal parking lot in front of the building. The proposal also would have required a use variance, because the existing building does not conform to the conservation zone.
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“With the result of our application, we are back to the drawing board,” said Garret Kerr after the meeting. He said they plan to find a beneficial use for the property that the community will be proud of, adding that several speakers critical of the plans (during the meeting) agreed that something should happen with the existing beachfront building.
“We truly do appreciate their thoughts as well as the democratic process that allows the public to be heard,” Garret Kerr said.
Because of ongoing limits on public gatherings, only a few people were able to attend the meeting in person at Borough Hall to comment on the proposal. Others could call in to the meeting, but many had difficulty getting in, with a recording on the call-in system stating the meeting was full and rejecting new callers.
Many kept trying. Hours after the start of the meeting, one new caller after another could be heard exclaiming “I got in!” At one point, board Chairman Jamie McDermott said there were 280 people on the call. Through the meeting, he repeatedly instructed, cajoled and even begged those on the line to mute their phones, as the meeting was repeatedly delayed or interrupted by feedback or echoes.
“We want you here. But if we can’t get a clean record, we’ll be here all night,” he said.
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The board underwent a painstaking process to accept comments from residents, unmuting 15 people at a time and asking if any lived within a few blocks of the proposed project. Hearings on planning applications typically allow the closest neighbors to comment first.
Most speakers opposed the project, many citing increased traffic, noise and the potential for excessive drinking at the venue, which as proposed would host weddings and other events.
The site does not have a license to serve alcohol, but the possibility of excessive drinking was raised by multiple speakers regardless. Several suggested patrons leaving the site would urinate on lawns or outside showers, or in a recently completed park across the Boardwalk.
“I like the Kerrs a lot, but this is not proper for our community at all,” said Elaine Scattergood, a neighbor of the property. “We’re going to have drunks and a playground next to each other.”
Multiple speakers suggested the proposal would bring dangerous levels of traffic into the neighborhood.
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“When a wedding lets out of there at 1 a.m., it’s just going to be miserable for all of us that live in that immediate area,” said neighbor Glen Myers. “People drink. They get loud. It’s not going to be any good at all there.”
Others said the project was a poor fit for the site, both because it sits within the protected dunes and because there is no road or alley access to the building.
“I want to know how this project is going to be beneficial to our neighborhood,” said neighbor Linda Echevarria, who said it could hurt property values.
“The only benefit I see is to the developer at the expense of the residents of Avalon,” said Julie Donatelli, another neighbor.
During the meeting, Garret Kerr said the peak hours for the business would be after most people leave the beach, when the large municipal parking lot is essentially empty.
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Gilman, the attorney representing TK Holdings, said there was a great deal of misinformation about the application, with some residents overestimating the size and height of the proposal or calling it a new bar even though it did not have a liquor license.
Some suggested that just because there is no license now is no reason to believe it won’t have one in the future, and that there can also be problems with a BYOB establishment.
Not every speaker opposed the application. A few described it as a major improvement over the current building and a good project for the community. Others cited the Kerr family’s position in Avalon and their charity work, suggesting the family would not seek to damage the town.
Some board members said they would need more details to approve the project, including a better plan for how the business would handle deliveries and trash collection. Board member Tom McCullough, the lone vote in favor of the variance, cited the fact that many visitors look for services like beachfront dining.
“Unfortunately, I can’t support what you’re proposing,” said board member Eric Schiela before voting no. “I think there’s a great opportunity here, but I think what you’re asking for is too much.”