By Paul Goldfinger, Editor @Blogfinger
In our March 18 article about the Whitfield Hotel site and its zoning concerns, we said, “Do you suppose that this is a well traveled highway in Ocean Grove? Have we now lost that loving feeling in our town, or did it disappear a long time ago?” Well, it seems that this sort of manipulative process has been going on for some time.
Perhaps some of you “old-timers” recall the case of 11 Webb Avenue. That situation from 1986 resulted in a law suit “against a local construction company (Frank Bridge Construction,) Dorothy and William Green, Vito Gadaleta (Neptune Zoning Official,) and Neptune Township.”
The suit claimed that “construction was permitted by Township officials to begin work on a new home at 11 Webb without proper permits and without required variances..” The suit also contended that the lot was “undersized, and the construction was invading the setback.”*
The court case was brought by the Sutherlands (Phyllis and Donald,) a couple living next door at 9 Webb Avenue. They said that “despite
their protest, the Township zoning officer issued an improper building permit and yet that construction continued.”
“In addition the house towered over its two neighbors blocking their light, views and air. It was 3 stories high and had a garage.” Some locals called it “the too tall house.”In a letter to the editor of the Ocean Grove and Neptune Times on January 18, 1990, Kevin Chambers of Ocean Grove wrote, “The house was built illegally with the tacit approval of Neptune’s zoning department. 11 Webb became a symbol of chronic zoning abuses in the historic district, and homeowners throughout the community rallied to support the couple that fought it.”
According to a 1993 OGHOA newsletter, printed in the Coaster, “The Township had ruled that the building lot was ‘grandfathered,’ a claim that was eventually proven to be erroneous.” The suit also said that “no building permit had been issued and that the builder had not appeared before the Board of Adjustment.”
Eventually the court sent the matter to the Neptune Township Board of Adjustment and then later to the Neptune Township Planning Board. Both boards denied Frank Bridge his variances and his subdivision respectively” *
Eventually the exterior of the house was completed, but not the interior. The building was never occupied after work was stopped by an injunction. According to Chambers, “The shell house had become a negative tourist attraction over the last few years. People drive slowly by and wonder what is going on with the court case.”
The suit was supported by the OGHOA who “voted its moral support to the Sutherlands” The HOA said, “We would like to thank the Sutherlands for their commitment. We owe them a deep debt of gratitude.”*
After 7 long years of litigation, the Sutherlands won their case, and the house at 11 Webb was torn down in August, 1993. But the family had spent $100,000 to pay for their “due process.”* It’s a shame that a “deep debt of gratitude” was all the HOA could come up with, but at least they were on the side of OG citizens this time around. But today, whose side are they on when it comes to zoning disputes?
So, clearly this kind of zoning subterfuge by local developers and Township officials, abetted by the inaction of the Home Groaners, is nothing new.
And now we see the Whitfield zoning fiasco where the same sort of “grandfathering” has been used by the Neptune zoning office to avoid seeking necessary variances at the Boards.
Remember Mary’s Place where the zoning officers allowed the developer to merge two lots and build what they did without requiring any variances? In fact the zoning permission was granted by Haney’s office using a dubious justification without ever asking a Township Board to evaluate the application. Haney’s assistant George Waterman allowed the Mary’s construction to go on under the zoning designation of “community shelter–terminally ill.” That project should have applied for multiple variances.
And then there is the matter of the Township ignoring the State RSIS standards in order to permit certain projects like condos to go ahead without providing on-site parking.
And finally there is the North End Redevelopment Plan, currently stuck in the mud, which used an illegal sleight of hand to bypass the single family zoning at the North End to approve an ambitious plan that would offer 160 residential units and commercial development, a proposal that would change the town for the worst in terms of congestion, ecologic effects and and lifestyle.
So why do we bother reporting about these situations when the developers in this town seem to be able, in multiple instances over the years, to do whatever they want and to be above the law?
Well, we must admit that these instances in our town often dissolve into history as abstract moral concerns without practical resolutions. And yet, the Sutherlands of Ocean Grove won their case with the support of the people.
Besides, what’s wrong with standing up for honesty, truth, equality under the law and preservation of history in our town?
Sources. All quotes are from the Ocean Grove and Neptune Times (1986 and 1987) and the September 1993 newsletter of the OG Homeowners’ Association (printed in the Coaster*.) The latter quotes are marked with asterisks. We also quote a published letter (1990) from Kevin Chambers. And we received assistance from a knowledgable Grover who lived in town during this period.