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Massive bayfront project planned for beleaguered Marina Bay Towers site
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Massive bayfront project planned for beleaguered Marina Bay Towers site

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NORTH WILDDOOD — A year after reaching a settlement on a tangled lawsuit over the future of Marina Bay Towers senior housing complex on New York Avenue, the owner of the property has big plans for the bayfront high rise, as well as for the property next door.

On Wednesday, the North Wildwood Planning Board is set to hear two applications: One to renovate and expand the existing building, with new, market-rate units in addition to the affordable housing at the site.

The second seeks site plan approval and variances for a second high-rise building towering more than 200 feet on a lot now used for boat storage.

Planning documents on file in City Hall put the estimated cost of the first project at $12 million, with the second building coming in at an estimated $65 million. There is further work planned for additional buildings at the property, which spans two city blocks.

For years, the residents of the Marina Bay Towers building have complained about the deteriorating conditions there.

“The building is definitely in need of renovation urgently,” said North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello. “To the residents, it’s a big deal. To the neighbors, it’s a big deal.”

The owner, Paul Cocoziello, agrees. In a recent interview, he said the sale of the market-rate units will generate the revenue needed to fund those repairs. He cited the damage to the building from Superstorm Sandy close to a decade ago, and the expense of the legal battle over the future of the building, which sought to include market-rate units in the building.

There are 143 units in the building now. Currently, only 29 of those are occupied, he said. As proposed, the renovated building will have 105 affordable senior-housing units. He said the units will be greatly upgraded, with new kitchens and new finishes from top to bottom.

Plans also call for a community space, a reading area and exercise room, what Cocoziello described as a generous amenities package, separate from the rest of the property.

The application calls for an additional 60 market-rate units in the property, including the addition of a new top floor for two-story apartments at that level.

It also proposes the renovation of an existing boathouse and renovation to another building described as a lighthouse. A later phase of the same application includes a two-story restaurant, and plans are to renovate the boardwalk and create lawn and garden areas.

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Cocoziello heads Rubicon Development, based in Newark. The application has been made under Beach Creek Marina, with the new properties to be known as Ocean Bay Club. Cocoziello said the site has served as a marina since at least the 1950s, a use that will continue under the current proposal.

A second application, also on the agenda for Wednesday, requests preliminary approval for a mixed-use high rise, with penthouse apartments on the 12th floor. That site is currently a lot used to house boats.

To be called Ocean Bay Spires, plans show that building with four levels of parking underneath 11 stories of residential units, plus two-story penthouse uses at the 12th floor. Plans also call for a coffee shop, fitness and spa facilities and 144 dwelling units, according to the application.

Of those, 60 are proposed to be “condo/hotel” units, owned individually but operated as hotel rooms through a central management system.

The project is tied to the affordable housing next door, and the complicated history of affordable housing both in North Wildwood and statewide. The original building was funded as an affordable housing project, and New Jersey towns are legally obliged to provide opportunities for affordable housing under a court ruling known as the Mt. Laurel Decision. That decision kicked off years of complicated and shifting rules establishing how much affordable housing each municipality must provide.

“The proposed Ocean Bay Spires is directly related to the renovation of the former Marina Bay Towers and the restoration of 105 affordable senior apartments, which the city can use to satisfy its second round Mt. Laurel obligation,” reads part of the application filed with the city. “The restoration of affordable housing is typically supported by government assistance. The restoration of affordable units here is being achieved through private financing.”

The application describes the development of Ocean Bay Spires as the financial linchpin that makes the private financing available to rehabilitate and renovate the former Marina Bay Towers, now being called Ocean Bay Vistas.

The property has been at the center of a knot of lawsuits dating back to 2006, including lawsuits seeking money for the Payment in Lieu of Taxation agreement dating from the original construction. Both the legal history and the building’s ownership is extremely complicated. At one point, one company of which Cocoziello is a principal had filed to foreclose on another Cocoziello company.

There were complaints about the operation of Marina Bay Towers almost since its completion. Cocoziello cited damage from Sandy, but news reports indicate issues were raised well before the storm, some dating from soon after the building opened in 2000.

Last spring, the city announced a restructuring plan that would end about 16 years of litigation over the building. The second building is part of that agreement.

In a statement to residents about the settlement released in May 2020, Rosenello said the city sought to protect the taxpayers and the residents of Marina Bay Towers. The proposal offered the best hope for the existing building to finally be repaired, he wrote.

“The lawsuits and litigation that have surrounded Marina Bay Towers started long before my term as mayor,” Rosenello wrote in May of 2020. “One of my top priorities since becoming mayor was to extricate the city from these lawsuits in the best way possible.”

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