Hearing on Fantasy Island Application for Vacant CVS Packs Meeting Room

Discussion to Continue April 17
Mar 21, 2019
Supplied An architectural rendering of the facade of the proposed family entertainment center.

Deliberations on bringing a family entertainment center to the vacant CVS at the Causeway Circle were carried over at a standing-room-only land use board meeting Tuesday night to the board’s next meeting.

The Ship Bottom board is reviewing a use variance that would, if granted, allow such a center to come to the borough.

Tuesday’s meeting, which was slated to end at 10:30 p.m. in accordance with the board’s policy, didn’t adjourn until 11 p.m.

The municipal meeting room was packed with members of the public spilling out into the hallway of borough hall. Before the meeting began, the fire marshal, who was in attendance at the back of the municipal meeting room, declared the room at capacity.

Wainwright Amusement, which owns Fantasy Island in Beach Haven, is seeking to renovate the existing commercial structure on Long Beach Boulevard at Seventh Street and convert the use from retail to family entertainment. The proposed entertainment center would include a game zone, an escape room, café and XD theater.

The idea, according to Brian Wainwright, manager of Wainwright Amusement, is to solve the problem of traveling to be entertained. As an example, the closest escape room experience, he said, is about 30 or 40 minutes away.

He said the intention is to provide something unique, not just for Long Beach Island but for Ocean County. Plans include being open all year, and being available for private parties, birthday parties and even team-building sessions in the off-season, he said.

Wainwright’s comments came during the meeting, which included 2½ hours of professional and public testimony along with cross-examination from opposing counsel, Douglas J. Widman, an attorney out of Freehold retained by the owners of Hartland Golf & Arcade and Our Endless Summer, both located in Ship Bottom.

In his opposition, Widman hammered home the changes coming to Long Beach Boulevard as part of the state Department of Transportation’s $312 million federally funded rehabilitation and expansion of the Causeway. The final phase of that project, which is less than two years away from beginning, includes squaring off what is known locally as the Causeway Circle, making room for converting that section of Long Beach Boulevard into a two-way road at the site of Arlington Beach Club, once a gas station, and located across the Boulevard from the vacant CVS structure.

Scott Kennel, a traffic expert with McDonough-Rea Associates, the Manasquan-based transportation consulting firm retained by the applicant for a traffic study of the area, said he believes a family entertainment center would generate less traffic than a pharmacy “because of the stay time,” he said, noting the area is prime for pedestrians and bicyclists, and for parents to drop off their children. “If there are 60 patrons (inside) and there’s two in a vehicle – that’s if everyone drove – it’s 30 vehicles.”

Thirty-nine parking spaces are required, Kennel said. Forty-two are provided for, he said. When he looked at the existing arcades, the parking is more than double at the old CVS building, he said.

“We’re big bikers in Ship Bottom,” said Lindsay Meneses, who lives on West 20th Street in the borough, when public comment finally opened up at 10:30 p.m. “We almost never take our cars out.”

While acknowledging the area in question is congested, she said a family entertainment center “isn’t going to make it worse.”

Fred Madonna, who lives year ’round on Seventh Street in the borough, suggested a no-outlet sign at the end of the road, saying it could help with traffic.

“We’re not going to be a Seaside Heights,” he said in response to Widman’s question about whether approving a use variance would change the character of Ship Bottom. “Ship Bottom is dead at 10 p.m.”

There was time for fewer than a dozen members of the public to be heard on the application prior to the meeting being adjourned. Board Attorney Stuart Snyder recommended leaving the public comment period open. That’s where the discussion is expected to begin when the panel reconvenes April 17.

— Gina G. Scala


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