Wildwood pulls back on plan to create an RV campground on its beach

CAPTION -- Bathers are walking back from the Wildwood beach passing scene of the area where the wooden stakes have been driven into sand for RV's park/camp. ( AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer )
CAPTION -- Bathers are walking back from the Wildwood beach passing scene of the area where the wooden stakes have been driven into sand for RV's park/camp. ( AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer )
Posted: August 30, 2012

WILDWOOD - The city has pulled up stakes, literally, at a popular beach officials had hoped to turn into an RV campground this month. But it hasn't abandoned the idea entirely, the mayor said Tuesday.

A planned 80-space municipal RV park, to have been located between Taylor and Hand Avenues south of the Convention Center, failed to open Aug. 18 following intense protest by the owners of nearby oceanfront condos. The city envisioned the facility as part of a strategy to monetize the resort's vast strand to pay for beach upkeep without instituting beach-tag fees.

It now is investigating other locations for the campground, Mayor Ernie Troiano said Tuesday.

Wildwood's beach grows about 50 feet wider every year, making it ideal for a variety of revenue-generating events and services, but expensive to maintain, officials say. The annual cost to groom the oceanfront landscape is more than $400,000, Troiano said.

"We have experts telling us the only other beach on the planet as wide and as good as ours is in Rio de Janeiro, where they can get 200,000 to 250,000 people on the beach for an event," Troiano said. "It's a whole world out there that can be used for a lot more than just sitting and sunning."

Problems arose with the management company selected to run the campground, Troiano said. The city had planned to accept one- and two-night reservations, charging $120 to $150 a night for the 30- and 60-foot-wide spaces.

No water, sewer disposal, public restrooms, or electricity were to be provided by the park. Only self-contained RVs - which generate their own power and dispose of their wastewater elsewhere - were to be allowed.

Renting the spaces between Memorial Day and Labor Day could raise $200,000 a year, officials have said. If another location is secured quickly, the city may allow beach camping through October, Troiano said Tuesday.

He would not disclose locations the city is considering, but said they were "dead zones" where camping wouldn't directly affect residents.

Condo owners in Wildwood Ocean Towers, who fought creation of the campground at its original location, said they would oppose a facility no matter where it was. Campers would create a "trailer park atmosphere," according to the group, which expressed concerns about RVs driving across the beach to reach campsites and possibly leaking effluent.

"We still have the same concerns we had before about safety and environmental issues," said Robert Grandinetti, president of the condominium association. "We'll still keep fighting it."

Troiano last week ordered public works crews to remove wooden stakes that had been driven into the sand to designate slots for the campers at the original site.

The city had failed to submit to the Cape May County Health Department a required plan for how it would deal with water and sewer issues there, even if it was to say the issues wouldn't apply, county health officer Kevin Thomas said last week.

"I must see something . . . some plan in writing," Thomas said.

Further thwarting Wildwood's efforts, a break in the Boardwalk at Cresse Avenue - where campers were to enter the beach, then drive about two blocks to the site on a designated path - was barricaded last week by neighboring Wildwood Crest, which owns the south side of the entryway.

It wasn't the protests, petitions, pamphlets, or near-constant barrage of calls and e-mails expressing opposition to the plan that led officials to abandon the site, Troiano insisted Tuesday.

"We stated from Day One that if everything involved with the entire plan wasn't to our liking, we would be the ones to hold it up, and we did," he said.

The delay was created when issues arose among partners of the management firm Point Break, one of whom is Troiano's cousin by marriage. Point Break had been awarded a five-year contract by the city to oversee the campground and other beachfront activities. The agreement remains intact, Troiano said.

The mayor would not elaborate on the issues within the company, nor would he provide a timetable for when a relocated campground could be up and running.

Calls to Point Break by The Inquirer were not returned.

Contact Jacqueline L. Urgo at 609-652-8382 or jurgo@phillynew.com. Read the Jersey Shore blog, "Downashore," at www.philly.com/downashore.

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