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Wildwood's Pacific Ave Redevelopment Plan Wins Smart Growth Award

Monday, October 31, 2022   /   by Teresa DiPeso

Wildwood's Pacific Ave Redevelopment Plan Wins Smart Growth Award

The City of Wildwood’s visionary Pacific Avenue Redevelopment Plan is the recipient of a 2022 Smart Growth Award.

The awards are presented annually to plans and projects throughout the state of New Jersey that best exemplify the principles of “Smart Growth”. Those principles include a mix of housing and non-residential amenities – stores, offices, jobs and community facilities – all within easy reach of each other and well connected so people can walk; good design so neighborhoods are distinctive and attractive; attention to green and open spaces for recreation and environmental benefit; revitalization of existing communities; and establishment of an environment that attracts development and investment.

“The Pacific Avenue Redevelopment Plan is actually two plans,” said Wildwood Mayor Pete Byron. “The first step was to imagine what a revitalized Pacific Avenue district could be. The answer to that question was answered in the Pacific Avenue Vision Plan. On the basis of that effort, the Pacific Avenue Redevelopment Plan was developed and adopted to codify regulations that would make that vision a reality.” An extensive outreach process informed both the Vision Plan and the development standards of the Redevelopment Plan.

“We needed to understand what was getting in the way of Pacific Avenue reemerging as a vibrant center of energy,” said Cape May County Commissioner Will Morey. “We realized we were requiring too much commercial development for the number of people who live in the neighborhood full-time, and we weren’t allowing enough new housing for people who wanted to live here. That much commercial development without enough customers nearby wasn’t economically viable. Hence much of Pacific Avenue’s commercial space sat empty.”

To address this problem, the Redevelopment Plan now allows more residential development where it was not previously allowed, in order to attract more residents to the area. The permissible number of residences per acre was increased to meet current market demands, design standards were adopted that will give the district a cohesive, attractive appearance, and commercial development has been refocused to a smaller central area, creating a compact, energetic downtown “core” to which new residences would be connected.

More types of housing, including a requirement that 10 percent of new units be deed-restricted as affordable, are now encouraged as a way to attract a greater variety of full-time residents. Design requirements include direct pedestrian access from the street to each residence, through porches, stairs or other mechanisms, and a prohibition on excessive off-street parking in front of a home, which has the effect of removing barriers and increasing connection between homes and the street.

While the plan encourages higher-density development, the issue of climate change did not go unaddressed.
“We have revised all our development standards and design requirements to encourage revitalization of this neighborhood, but we also realize that, like much of the city, the neighborhood is vulnerable to tidal flooding and rising sea levels,” said Steve Booy, Wildwood’s zoning official and floodplain administrator. “So, we have built climate resilience right into the design standards. Maximum heights of new buildings now go up if future flood elevations increase, and parking can go underneath buildings, which means we don’t lose any of the design possibilities that come with taller, more elegant buildings because rising seas are crowding them from the bottom.”

The plan has been quick to show results. Developers who previously said they couldn’t develop on Pacific Avenue because it wasn’t feasible are showing renewed interest, and are eager to bring new investment.

The Pacific Avenue revitalization initiative is an ongoing, multi-agency, multi-step process involving the County of Cape May, the City of Wildwood, the Atlantic County Improvement Authority, and the South Jersey Economic Development District. Professional planning and architectural consulting services were provided by Trenton-based Clarke Caton Hintz. Real Estate consulting was provided by Nassau Capital Advisors.

Awards will be presented at a virtual celebration on November 10.


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