By Charles Layton
Residents of the North End of Ocean Grove are petitioning Neptune Township to do something about the Park View Inn. They say they fear that the dilapidated old building could catch fire and cause a conflagration.
The Park View, at 23 Seaview Avenue, was once a hotel with 36 rental units. It closed and fell into disrepair after changing owners a few years ago.
The residents’ petition, signed by 33 neighbors and presented to the township clerk’s office on Friday, expresses “deep concern” over the Park View’s present condition.
“For the past six years,” the petition says, “this building has appeared to be abandoned by its owners. Paint is peeling, windows are broken or boarded up with unattractive plywood, the fire escape is rusted and unsafe, gutters are broken and hanging, porch columns are broken… We are concerned because the building may become a fire problem.”
The petition says that “two young females” were recently “caught climbing into a window on the second floor porch of the Park View. About a week ago three young males apparently used a 2×6 piece of lumber to break into the basement in the middle of the day. They could have started a fire as a prank.”
Problems with the Park View date back at least as far as 2006. In 2007, the township took the building’s out-of-town owners to court over code violations. These owners were supposed to make improvements as a result of that court action, but on Dec. 18, 2008, the township’s attorney, Gene Anthony, stated in a letter to the owners’ attorney that the building remained in disrepair, had “numerous violations” of the township’s maintenance code and appeared to be “creating an eminent danger of failure or collapse in certain cases.”
According to township records, the township and the owners have remained in conflict from that time forward. For instance, on Feb. 9, 2009, Neptune’s director of code and construction, Bill Doolittle, notified the owners that they remained in violation of code and that penalties had accrued in the amount of $2,857.14.
On Feb. 27, 2009, Doolittle notified the owners that the violations remained in effect and that penalties had accrued in the amount of $3,114.28.
On June 12, 2009, I spoke with Doolittle about the condition of the property. He told me that the owners had put in for a permit to renovate the building, but that they still had outstanding violations.
In December, 2009, I was told by tax office officials that since August of that year the owners had been delinquent on their taxes in the amount of $15,056.39.
For at least the past year, visual inspections of the outside of the property have revealed windows with large, gaping holes open to the ravages of the weather, as well as all of the other problems listed in the neighbors’ petition.
Last year the owners got a permit to demolish the interior on the second and third floors, preparatory to rehabbing the property as a hotel/restaurant. However, not much progress seems to have been made on this plan.
Last week, after a Blogfinger reader complained about conditions at the Park View, Mayor Mary Beth Jahn said the township continued to be concerned. However, she wrote, “It can be frustrating to build an airtight case, because it takes time. All this is happening even as we are laying off employees due to budget constraints. I wish it could be faster, but lack of resources and due process do drag things out somewhat.”
Because of legal protections of property owners’ rights, the township’s ability to move swiftly against owners of a derelict building can be cumbersome. The township must inspect the property, notify the owner of violations in a prescribed manner, with prescribed deadlines, and then bring the issue to court in order to force repairs or condemn the property. There are ample opportunities for an uncooperative owner to delay these processes.
The Park View is owned by a company run by Marshall and Elliott Koplitz of Englewood Cliffs, NJ. They are the same owners who allowed the Sampler Inn on Main Avenue to become such a serious fire hazard that the township ordered it demolished last year. The Koplitz brothers also own the Ocean Plaza Hotel and the Ocean View Inn on Ocean Pathway. They have been in conflict with the township this year over zoning issues regarding these properties, although the problems with these properties appear less serious than the problems with the Park View.
The Koplitzes gained notoriety several years ago for fire code violations and the unruly behavior of their tenants in Long Branch, NJ. They accumulated more than $1 million in outstanding fines on their Long Branch rental properties, and in 2006 they settled with the city for $400,000. Some of their properties were characterized in newspaper reports as “animal houses.”
The petition signed by North End residents was circulated mainly by Ted Bell and Charles Bridge, both of whom live across the street from the Park View. The petition asks the township to explain “Why has this building not been condemned?” It concludes by saying: “We request a response in the form of action to our concerns. We have waited long enough.”
Addendum, Monday night: At tonight’s Township Committee meeting officials said that the township is in the process of building a case against the owners of the Park View. Mayor Jahn said the township wants the building saved. “I don’t think anyone wants us to demolish it,” she said.
Michael Bascom, the township’s chief financial officer, said he had spoken with Bill Doolittle today about the Park View and that Doolittle informed him that under present notices of violation the owners owe $63,000 in fines and penalties. Gene Anthony, the township attorney, said the assessments increase over time as the violations continue uncorrected.