Atlantic City Press
Lower Township OKs next phase of Grand project

By Richard Degener - Staff Writer

LOWER TOWNSHIP − The Planning Board on Thursday night issued preliminary approvals for a second 12−story condominium building at The Grand at Diamond Beach project.

The board vote was unanimous and, unlike earlier approvals for this project, the 12−story phase one and five−story second phase, this was done without protest. In fact, there wasn't a single resident at the hearing.  Only two reporters sat in the audience.

"It's amazing. Not one person," developer Eustace Mita said after the meeting.

Five years ago, when Mita's company Achristavest, LLC, applied for the first 12−story condominium building, the hearing drew a full house of residents worried about the building blocking off sunlight, sea breezes and beach access while leading to traffic congestion. The 125−unit building is under construction, and Mita said residents must like what they see.

Mita had argued then that he would build a first−class resort that would actually raise property values at Diamond Beach.

"I think they are surprised at the beauty," Mita said.

The board voted 7−0 for preliminary approval for the second 12−story building at the current site of the Pier 6600 Motor Inn that Mita bought a few years ago. The site is bounded by Rochester, Atlantic and Memphis avenues.

The new building would include 98 condominium units. The project needs no variances, but the board granted several design waivers.

Plans call for 92 two−bedroom units, 5 three−bedroom units and 1 three−bedroom unit. The lobby would face Atlantic Avenue. There would be ground−level parking and a parking garage, an interior pool, a fitness center, an exterior pool overlooking the ocean and retail shops. The exterior would be highlighted by pavers and granite curbing.

"It's a beautiful site," said board Chairman Jay Dilworth.

Township officials have been promoting The Grand at Diamond Beach development as a major ratable that will require few services.

Due to the economy, the project is moving at a much slower pace than Mita expected five years ago, but Mita said it is the top−selling condominium project in Cape May County right now. He has sold about one third of the units, which range in price from $682,000 to $5.2 million, in the first building.

When the first building is complete in about one year Mita, plans to begin the second phase. The five−story condominium has already received all its approvals.

Mita said the third building is also 12 stories but with less square footage than the one under construction. It will include 98 units compared with 125 units. He said it would cost about $250 million, bringing the overall 1project up to about $600 million.

"It's hard to believe it's been five years since I first came here. You probably remember I had a full head of hair, and I didn't wear glasses," the balding Mita joked when he first addressed the board.

Back then, Mita thought he would be working on the later phases of the project by 2008. Now, he expects construction to continue for another decade. On July 12, he plans to open the first model condominiums.

"The economy has pushed the time frame back. We don't see it ticking up for two years. We pray the market gets better," Mita said.

About 70 percent of the units purchased have been bought by people from northern New Jersey and New York. About 30 percent of the purchasers are from Philadelphia. Mita said this is the almost an exact reverse of the percentages for condominiums in nearby Wildwood.


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