ON THE VENTNOR-MARGATE BORDER — From halfway across Fredericksburg Avenue, where the Ventnor boardwalk ends, you can see the new sand dunes on Margate's beaches that plunged so many of its homeowners into deep despair last summer.
But one Margate resident, Glenn Klotz, thinks he has a solution to the beaches that residents declared "ruined" after Gov. Chris Christie and the U.S. Army Corps forced protective dunes along the familiarly flat landscapes of their coastline.
His "back to the future" idea: a Margate boardwalk, last seen in this tony Shore town in 1944, before a hurricane tore it to pieces.
If their beach now has so much protection, Klotz reasons, why not build something to protect?
"It's a silver lining," says Klotz, whose late father was the great Red Klotz of Washington Generals and JCC pickup basketball fame, giving him a little clout in town, and who was one of the original anti-dune activists. "I'm past the blame. We've got to move on. I have grieved the loss of our beach."
Margate's beaches are not exactly lost, but they are different post-Army Corps, having been transformed from unassuming flat stretches of sand to beaches now bisected by bulky dunes with spiky young grass. Without a boardwalk and ramps leading over the dunes, the new beach presents an access problem for families, the disabled, and older residents, says Klotz. The old routines of walking up to the bulkheads at street ends to check out the waves now yield only a view of a wall of sand.
The Army Corps still has heavy machinery at spots as they construct a permanent drainage system of outfall pipes.
Temporary orange drainage pumps dot the beach behind the dunes, installed to prevent a recurrence of the Lake Christie effect that turned shoobies into sign-carrying Sunday afternoon protesters last summer, one pretty much hijacked by the dune controversy, both on the beaches and in the Margate psyche.
Not to worry: The drainage construction will halt in late June and resume after the summer, says the U.S. Army Corps, because, frankly, neither side can take another summer of acrimony.
"We've got to move on," says Klotz, 69, an easy-going old surfer dude who lists engineer and nightclub owner among his professions. His boardwalk pitch is, in fact, equal part engineering and psychology. "We've got to figure out a way to adapt to this thing as best we can. You mourn it. You go through the grievance thing. I guess I've made it through most of the steps. Let's not forever grieve this. If you're going to forever grieve this, then sell your house. You're never going to be happy in Margate."
Margate's woes, which this season kicked off with angst over a "mini-golf monstrosity" being built near the Wawa on Ventnor Avenue, and a fight between burger joints over whether the name "Margate" is proprietary, seem, frankly, a tad ridiculous to some on the other side of the border.
"I know Margate's having a tough time right now," said Therese Cooke, 36, of Brigantine, who was running with her 20-month-old daughter, Claudia, in a jogging stroller. Like many, she reached the end of the boardwalk and got caught up in conversation. "They're up in arms about it seems like almost everything."
She described the dune commotion as "champagne problems — you have a million-dollar home that you live in for three months out of the year, and you're complaining we're protecting it."
And like most people who hit the end of Ventnor's 1.6-mile noncommercial boardwalk, Cooke said extending the boardwalk into Margate (another 1.6 miles) would be great. The Army Corps recently finished up an extension of the approximately four-mile stretch connecting the Atlantic City Boardwalk at the other end, extending around and along the inlet nearly to Gardner's Basin.
But Cooke questioned whether Margate residents (Margatians, in local patois) would really dig into their taxes or otherwise pay to construct something that would encourage more people to walk by their homes.
"They don't want people parking on the beach blocks. Why would they want people walking in front of their homes?" she said. "They're very particular with the way they are."
All in all, it has been a much happier preseason over in not-quite-as-tony Ventnor, where the long-decrepit and defunct — but historic and much-beloved — Ventnor Twin was purchased by the owner of the Stone Harbor boutique movie theater, who plans a similar bar-theater-restaurant complex.
Ventnor Mayor Beth Holtzman said her town would welcome an extension of the boardwalk. Ventnor twice rebuilt its boardwalk, after the 1944 hurricane and, again, after the March 1962 storm. Margate chose not to rebuild.
"Everybody loves a boardwalk," she said, adding that mini-golf would also be welcome in Ventnor. "Our boardwalk is used by just as many people who live in Margate or visit Margate as Ventnor."
It's true. On summer weekends, it seems all of Margate bikes or jogs or walks along Atlantic Avenue to Martindale Avenue, the southernmost entrance to the Ventnor boardwalk, so much so that residents hang a welcome banner across their street. A Margate boardwalk would get a lot of that pedestrian and bicycle traffic off the street, and possibly spread out the summer recreational madness on the boardwalk itself.
Klotz estimates that a boardwalk would cost at least $10 million, based on Belmar's reconstruction of its boardwalk after Hurricane Sandy.
How serious is the proposal? Margate Mayor Mike Becker says the town has contacted the state Department of Environmental Protection, but a spokesman for the DEP said, "We don't have any applications before us."
Steve Rochette, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps, said he was not aware of anything in the law that brought and paid for dunes in Margate that would prohibit the construction of a boardwalk.
Klotz says there's only about 10 homes that jut out far enough on the beach that a boardwalk might be seen as intrusive, but he advocates a referendum before anything is decided.
Margate's desire to be more like Ventnor, at least where the boardwalk is concerned, is a bit of a role reversal for the neighboring towns. Ventnor property values have been rising, while some in Margate worry that all the protesting over allegedly ruined beaches, as well as the disruptive construction and flooding last summer, has made people a bit wary of their town.
Klotz knows the boardwalk is a bit of a pipe dream at this point, but he also points out it's just a wooden walkway, more like building a long deck than a complicated structure (though the current dunes would prevent a simple straight line extension of the boardwalk from Ventnor, and require either moving the dunes or curving the boardwalk).