Atlantic City Planning Board tries to divide and conquer

take-business.jpg…but it’s not going to work.

Last week, the Atlantic City Planning Board approved their “recommendations” for a proposed area in need of redevelopment. It’s not necessarily “in need of redevelopment” but Pinnacle Entertainment wants to build a new casino. Since casinos are pretty much synonymous with Atlantic City, it was assumed the planning board would basically rubberstamp the plan.

But they didn’t. As The Press of Atlantic City reports, “[A]t the last minute, Planning Director William Crane recommended the exemption of a few lots within the area targeted for redevelopment, designed to allow Pinnacle to expand its property for a $1.5 billion casino project. Among those excluded was Barth’s Park Lane Apartment Hotel.”

Interestingly, also among those excluded was a condo owned by Councilman John Schultz that’s located in a “business building,” which used to house an abortion clinic before it was shut down for health violations.

One of the properties not excluded was Kim Son Jewelry owned by Quang Ha. Ha is an experienced entrepreneur, having owned a bicycle tire factory in North Vietnam before he was arrested and imprisoned for his capitalistic behavior. He escaped from Vietnam, floating on a boat to China where he ended up in a refugee camp in Hong Kong. Ha learned the jewelry trade after coming to the U.S. and set up shop in Atlantic City precisely because of the opportunity to run a successful business there.

What makes the sudden decision of the Planning Board even more perplexing is that Vince Barth and Quang Ha are both represented by Princeton attorney William Potter. Potter thought the decision suspect:

“Right now it looks to me like a curious attempt to carve out one of my clients but not the other,” said Potter, a Princeton-based attorney representing both men. “It’s definitely appropriate to carve out the Park Lane hotel, but to separate the two is arbitrary and capricious.”

The plan should come before the full city council for a vote in a couple of weeks.

Now it should be added that council members are voting on a blight designation for a project that might not even happen. Again for the Press of Atlantic City’s article:

Building a project as big and important as this, your plans are always changing,” Zeitz said. “Plans have been changing from the get-go.”

One major alteration was Pinnacle’s announcement in February that the credit crisis is preventing the $1.5 billion project from progressing. Pinnacle officials have since conceded that the property may be sold and the company could scrap plans to build in Atlantic City.

So, the bottom line is: The city council will be voting to allow the city to acquire private property to hand over to a private developer who says openly not only that it might not be able to finance the proposed project, but it might close up and leave town altogether whether or not they get the property they want.

Ha intends to keep fighting to save his jewelry business, and even though Barth’s property is safe, he intends to keep on fighting for his neighbors’ property rights. So far, the property owners still affected by the plan have Mayor Scott Evans on their side and a couple of other city council members, but it’s not certain whether the city council will approve the plan or not.