By Charles Layton
If you’ve noticed this big Gannon sign on the front of 80 Main Avenue and wondered what it means, wonder no more. It means this controversial, much-loved but much-neglected building is about to be saved.
Officials of the Historic Preservation Commission met recently with the owners’ representative, local attorney Bill Gannon, and came away with an agreement that the building will be renovated rather than demolished.
The future of 80 Main, considered one of Ocean Grove’s key historic structures, had been in doubt for many months. Gannon told me on Thursday that his clients, the owners, had “wanted to do a complete razing, a complete demolition” due to the building’s poor condition. They had applied to the HPC for a permit to demolish; however, HPC members who inspected the building felt strongly that it should be saved instead.
“I think it’s a win-win,” Gannon said of the proposal now in the works to renovate. The uninhabited building was once a doctor’s office on the first floor and a residence on the second. Gannon said his clients intend to convert the entire building into a single-family home and then probably put it up for sale.
The agreement to renovate would seem to mark the end of a long struggle between Neptune Township and the building’s absentee owners, Mark and Hal Ornstein of Howell, NJ. Last year the HPC asked Neptune Code Enforcement to do something about the building’s condition. In August, Code issued a list of violations including rotted or missing wood, peeling paint and shingles missing or broken. In February, the owners pleaded guilty in Municipal Court and agreed to address the building’s problems.
According to Gannon, the first phase of the work will be exploratory, to determine the exact state of the building. To that end, the HPC has given permission for the Gannon family’s contracting business, Gannon Building & Remodeling, to gut the interior down to the studs, to strip off the decking on the front porch, to secure the front porch (chiefly for the protection of workers entering and leaving the place) and to take off the porch railing. Gannon said that he expects to get a permit this week to do all that, and that the work itself could begin next week.
The second phase will involve a full hearing before the HPC to introduce the renovation plans. After that comes the application for permits to do the work. “We’re hoping to get the full documents in by October or November,” Gannon said. He said Shore Point Architecture of Ocean Grove would produce the construction documents.
Deborah Osepchuk, chairwoman of the HPC, said the first-phase details were worked out with Gannon in a meeting that she characterized as cordial. She said both he and the HPC were in basic agreement.
“His intention is, and ours is, that the building will be saved,” she said.