ATLANTIC CITY — A state agency that controls zoning in nearly all of Atlantic City's prime real estate has approved a new master plan that officials insist will finally loosen land regulations that have stalled development.
Much of the land in the state-controlled Tourism District — the city's real-life Monopoly Board — will be put back in play with relaxed zoning restrictions, said Lance Landgraf, the head of planning for the state's Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.
The CRDA has long doled out a 1.25 percent tax on casino revenue that has gone to funding projects in Atlantic City and throughout the state. In recent years, the money has been funneled back to the casinos to spur expansion and new attractions, even as five casinos shut their doors.
But that tax — the investment alternative tax, or IAT — was diverted to the city's mostly bare coffers under a state law that put the city's government in the hands of state overseers.
As a result, the CRDA's mission has shrunk, and chairman Robert Mulcahy, who successfully lobbied this year to restore his $23,000 annual stipend, said the agency could better cooperate with the city to jump-start development to help both residents and tourists.
"When the years were great and everybody was making money, it was like silos and people didn't work together," Mulcahy said. "And then the bust came. And that initiated that people have to work together."
The new plan, which can be found at the CRDA website, www.njcrda.com, turns the mostly vacant land in the south inlet near the failed Revel casino from strictly casino commercial to mixed-use residential.
It still will require a minimum density for a developer, Landgraf said, so a person who decides Atlantic City is the spot to build a dream beach house will have to find a spot elsewhere in the city, despite the acres of vacant land.
The CRDA has been an aggressive acquirer of land near Revel but has been stymied in its eminent-domain quest by the lack of a viable plan after Revel went bust.
The master plan also stakes out a Kentucky Avenue historic entertainment district, which officials hope will attract businesses such as recording studios and nightclubs in the spot where the great Club Harlem once stood. That idea has been around for more than a decade, but Landgraf said this master plan would now spur land-use regulations, which were never adopted after the original, dreamier Tourism Master Plan was produced in 2012. Most of the fanciful ideas in that master plan remain, literally, on the drawing board.
Ducktown is designated an arts district, another idea that has been bandied about for years.
In other business, the CRDA approved 15 additional Class II officers who will be deployed along Pacific Avenue to supplement the 30 Class II officers on the Boardwalk. This decision comes as the state's overseer, Jeffrey S. Chiesa, has pushed for cuts to the police and fire departments.
In the past, Atlantic City's Class II officers have been used to patrol the Boardwalk mostly overnight, but the expanded class will patrol during the day, Mulcahy said. The officers, often used seasonally in Shore towns, have similar powers and much of the same training as full-time officers but are paid by the hour without benefits. They also cannot take their weapons home. State law says they are not supposed to replace or support a reduction in the staffing of the regular police department.
The move prompted objections from the city's police union, PBA Local 24. "We have the best and most effective detectives in the state," the union tweeted. "You can't replace that with an army of Class II's."
Mayor Don Guardian said after the meeting that the city's new budget, which the state approved and Gov. Christie trumpeted for its 5 percent cut in property taxes, authorizes a police department at its current staffing level. He said the Class 2 officers would be welcome on Pacific Avenue, a block from the Boardwalk, which attracts drug dealers, prostitutes, and loitering.
Merchant Nael Zumot of the Center City Deli on Atlantic Avenue said more police of any rank or class were needed. "As soon as the police leave, they watch them, and you see 10 drug dealers on the avenue," he told the CRDA board.
Resident Geoff Rosenberger urged the CRDA to remember city residents and to make sure the city works for them as well. And he urged the CRDA to change the signage on their ubiquitous trucks, which now say CRDA but not Atlantic City.
"Think about what we're promoting here: Atlantic City," he said. "Change the name on the trucks from CRDA to Atlantic City."