By Charles Layton
On January 20, a judge confounded us all by dismissing Neptune Township’s case against the owner of 91 Cookman Avenue, one of Ocean Grove’s most infamous derelict homes.
After taking the prescribed legal steps of issuing fines and summonses, the Township had gotten a December 2 date for a court hearing. On that date, the owner pleaded not guilty to maintenance violations, and Municipal Court Judge Robin Wernik scheduled a trial for January. Then, on the January date that she herself had set, Wernik dismissed the case, remarking that it had gone on for too long.
Township officials and many readers of this blog were flabbergasted. How is the Township supposed to enforce its maintenance code, we thought, if the local judge is that capricious? To this day, there’s been no explanation for the judge’s odd behavior.
But on Saturday, Township officials told Blogfinger that the Code Enforcement Department has refiled the case. Bill Doolittle, who heads that department, said the owner of the property, Carole Weisz of New York City, was informed on Feb. 17 that the Township has renewed its demands that she correct a host of code violations. If she doesn’t comply, Doolittle seemed confident that the Township would be able to bring the case back into Wernik’s court.
Last year Weisz received citations for problems that included unsound porches and other structural features, rotted out wood and heavy overgrowth of vegetation. Except for some mainly cosmetic improvements, such as trimming back the vegetation, those problems remain. However, Weisz is seeking Historic Preservation Commission approval to make more substantive repairs.
Weisz has also contemplated trying to sell the house, although her real estate agent has said considerable work is needed before it can be shown to prospective buyers.
The house has been uninhabited for some 11 years and is said to be a mess inside. Weisz inherited it from her mother, who had lived there since 1967. The HPC considers the house one of Ocean Grove’s “key structures,” meaning it is of architectural and historic importance.
Last July the HPC, acting under Neptune’s “demolition by neglect” ordinance, asked that Code Enforcement inspect the house and try to force the owner to save it. It was that action that eventually led to the present court struggle.