By Paul Goldfinger
There used to be a required Camp Meeting interview for those who wished to buy a house in the Grove. In the beginning, this was used as a “filtering” device to screen out those who were considered undesirable. But, about 14 years ago, the interviews were discontinued. It probably had become just a formality even before that, because the federal fair housing act was passed in 1968. Neptune Township took over governance in 1980.
When Ocean Grove was founded, it was to be an enclave of the Holiness Movement of the Methodist Church. The CMA owned the land from the start and they own the land today. They could practice discrimination legally in the remote past, but that process began to erode early, as other Christians were eventually allowed in, including Roman Catholics. Somewhere along the line, Jews began to purchase in the Grove. And now, as far as can be seen, anyone can buy a home here.
But a somewhat strange practice has continued. When you want to buy a house in town, you need to fill out a special form for the CMA. It is an Application for Transfer of Leasehold. You must fill out the form, sign it and attach a check for a non-refundable $200.00 recording fee. If the CMA approves your application, you will be allowed to lease the land under your house. But if they don’t approve you, can they send you packing?
It wouldn’t be fair for us to conclude that the form shouldn’t exist, because the CMA does own the land, and they have the right to screen prospective leasers. But this form is rather peculiar. Since the CMA cannot discriminate according to religion, race, gender, etc what then is the point of the form? Do they actually turn people down because of the form, and if so, what would compel them to do so?
The form is pretty interesting because it has some questions that will raise eyebrows, especially if you just showed up from Manhattan and you know next to nothing about the town’s history or about the CMA. With the two page form, they also hand you three pages, single spaced, of rules and regulations which mostly contain reasonable rules such as “camping and open fires prohibited on the beach.” The rules also prohibit alcohol, marijuana or mind altering drugs in public places, no “indecent exposure” in public places, no one permitted on the beach on Sunday morning, and other similar restrictions. But it is the questions under “individual responses” on page two which have a tendency to attract attention.
Here is the actual form—page two:
In discussing the matter with real estate lawyers in town, I found out that none of them object to the form . They say that the CMA never turns down anyone and that the form is no longer part of the real estate contract. One attorney had a client who wanted to get out of his contract, so he went to the CMA and gave the wrong answers to every question and even threatened to go on the beach every Sunday morning, and they still approved him. One of the lawyers called the form a “historical oddity.”
Some people refuse to answer certain questions, but they still get approved. So what’s the point?
I asked a high official in the CMA that question. He paused and then said, “Remember that song in Fiddler on the Roof… about tradition?” Then he smiled and walked away.
Well, miracle of miracles, he likes the music of the shtetl—So here’s the cast of the original Broadway show. It is in keeping with a tradition of the Camp Meeting—music was always part of it.