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Archive for the ‘Ocean Grove fire 3/3/17’ Category

This is the Whitfield Hotel as it was being demolished on Jan. 22, 2017. Note the security fence around the property. Photo by Christopher Poverman, Esq. ©  Click to see the fence better.

By Paul Goldfinger, Editor @Blogfinger.

Doug Walden signs his emails, “Burned out of 29 Seaview Avenue, Apt D. Ocean Grove, NJ.” He barely escaped with his life.    Doug is one  of the fire victims  who are looking into a law suit regarding that March 3 Warrington fire.  After a difficult time—he suffered lung injuries from the smoke and he lost all his possessions—he has now found housing in the Grove and he is trying to get back to his job and recover from the stress of that horrid experience.

Doug is a persistent person who has made it his business to personally participate in investigating this tragedy.  In an interview with Blogfinger, Doug mentioned that he believed that the Warrington should have been better secured, in the same way that the Whitfield was, and that effective security fencing could have possibly prevented the fire. He has other concerns as well regarding how that fire might have been prevented

The photograph above was taken by a Spring Laker, Christopher Poverman, Esq. who pointed out that a contractor was working on the Warrington  2 1/2 blocks away when this Whitfield photograph was obtained. I was over there myself watching the workers, and there was no fence isolating the property.

Mr. Poverman asked, “Why wasn’t the Warrington secured like this?”

Neptune Mayor Michael Brantley spoke about the cause of the fire at the May 8 Committee meeting.  He said that the fire was “incendiary” and then he said that it was either intentionally caused by an “arsonist” or accidentally set by a “vagrant.”   The township lawyer used the word, “vagabond.”

But it seems like the word “incendiary” means intentional.  The Mayor’s language, presented in a formal written statement,  was confusing, and the investigators at the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office have so far made no formal announcement about the cause of the fire. The Asbury Park Press has avoided reporting on the cause until the investigators have concluded their evaluation so it’s not clear why the Mayor decided to make that statement on May 8, and we don’t know who wrote the text. 

We found two definitions online.  We do need some official clarification regarding the words to describe the cause of that terrible fire.

  • Incendiary – A fire intentionally ignited under circumstances where the person knows the fire should not be ignited.
  • Arson – The crime of maliciously and intentionally, or recklessly, starting a fire or causing an explosion.

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March 4, 2017.  Ocean Grove fire scene taken from Asbury Park. Internet photo.

By Paul Goldfinger, Editor @Blogfinger

Question 1: Neptune Twp. mayor, Michael Brantley read a statement at the last Committee meeting which said that the “detective bureau deemed it to be an undetermined incendiary fire.” His text also said, “Either an arsonist deliberately, or a vagrant accidentally, set a fire to the Warrington Hotel, in a location where fire should not otherwise be present.”

The Mayor’s text used terms such as “cognitive experiments” to explain the investigation to us, and his statement was cognitively challenging.    The text of this perplexing message was sent to us by a publicist.  

Why didn’t the Mayor speak to us in his own words instead of reading a canned  and undecipherable speech that someone else presumably wrote?

The Mayor gives the appearance of someone who is concerned that he might say the wrong thing. What is he afraid of?

 

Question 2: Why hasn’t the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office given a formal statement to the press? Do you suppose that they are finding a very worrisome intertwining pattern developing ? How extensive has this investigation become?

And why did the Mayor make that statement at the Committee meeting when no one involved directly in the investigation has said anything publicly?

 

Question 3: Are they investigating the owner of the building: Jack R. Ancona, LLC/ Flatiron Real Estate Advisors? He had obtained approvals for a land-locked boutique hotel on the banks of the retention/detention basin (aka Wesley Lake.)

How did he manage to get the variances that he needed to help skirt land use law?

 

Question 4: Why was the vacated Warrington Hotel allowed to deteriorate and become a “fire trap?”

The neighbors nearby were frightened of the risk for years and they complained about it. We heard it personally when we interviewed a 91 year old man who lived alone in one of the cottages that was destroyed in the fire.

The Warrington became a big wooden box which was open to the outside creating ideal conditions for oxygen to stream in and feed the fire.

Mike, a single man who lived in a 4 unit rental house next to the Warrington,  loved his apartment near the Lake.  He  barely escaped with his life. Mike saw the danger. He said that “the stage was set” for a fire. He saw ”a fireball” coming towards him as his windows were “exploding.”  He barely got out, and “the building collapsed within 13 minutes.” He lost everything he owned including his cat.

If the building had been condemned and demolished, as it should have been, this fire would have never occurred.

 

Question 5: Why was the Warrington Hotel allowed to stand empty without being properly secured?   Suspicious people and noises from within were reported by neighbors—they called the police on many occasions in the past, but we were told that no vagrants had been seen in or around the building in recent months.

In contrast, the Whitfield site was said to have been “professionally secured” with sturdy fencing all around.

 

Question 6:   What is the liability of the Township which gave the owner permission to leave his property in a condition that created danger for those who lived nearby?

Who benefitted from leaving that property in such a condition rather than seeking to protect the neighbors from fire and from bad actors?

 

Question 7: At least 8 lawsuits are already in motion: Who are the defendants?

 

MENDELSSOHN    Psalm 42, op. 32   St. Thomas Choir (Leipzig)

 

 

 

 

 

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NJ.com photo 5/3/17

By Paul Goldfinger, Editor @Blogfinger.net

Recently Blogfinger published a series of articles called “the Case of the Worrisome Warrington”   This quote is from our March 3, 2017 post—on the day of the fire:*

“Three days ago we wrote a piece about how the Warrington project would receive official final approval this week for their site plan to turn that crappy building into a modern 21 room boutique hotel with an apartment in the basement and a basket full of variances to permit this special use, despite all the land use violations which we have documented. The Zoning Board official at the Mother Ship told us that the signing was just a formality, so we assume that it was done.”

The roaring fire that occurred that day was thought to have begun in the decrepit vacated building called  ”The Warrington Hotel.”   Later investigators backed off from that assessment somewhat, but now we know that it was true.

An investigation has been ongoing as to the cause of the massive fire that destroyed 7 buildings and damaged a large condominium near the ocean—the LaPierre.  Nearly 100 people lost their homes.

The day after the fire, Blogfinger heard from an attorney who was looking into the matter.  We understand that a number of lawsuits are in progress.  One of those people who was injured in the fire is suing the owner of the building as well as the contractor who was in there for months doing some sort of demo work. They also were removing the siding on the building—which could make it easier for a fire to spread.  And, there were no working fire alarms inside.

Blogfinger  questioned the land use issues regarding the property including the permission to build a 21 room boutique hotel on a land-locked lot.

A federal agency was involved (ATF), but they reportedly turned their investigation over to the lead investigator, the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office. The fire Marshall was looking into the matter as was the State.  Up to now, no results were announced.

But last night, after the Township Committee had its usual work shop (ie a secret session,)  Mayor Brantley announced that the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office told him that an accelerant was found inside the Warrington.  In other words, the fire was begun by an arsonist.

No other specifics are currently available, but this is obviously now a criminal investigation in addition to a fire investigation.

And, finally, some agency will likely be looking at the Neptune Township Government and how it so easily evades Land Use Laws and favors developers over the best interests of the citizens of Ocean Grove.  In addition the Neptune Township governing body will probably be named as defendant in one or more of the pending lawsuits and investigations.

Warrington fire link one    *

Warrington fire link two

Warrington fire link three

Other posts can be found by searching our search box at the top right of this page:    “Warrington Hotel”  and “March 3 fire in Ocean Grove”

JOHN BARRY  “Theme From Somewhere in Time.”

 

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26 Lake Avenue. Ocean Grove, New Jersey

The article below is our original 2012 coverage of the amazing restoration of 26 Lake Avenue, located at Seaview, Lake, and Founder’s Park.  By a miracle, it was unscathed (as far as we know.)  But so many readers have been wondering about it since it appears in most of the videos and photographs from the 3/3/17 fire.  It reminds me of the Woody movie “Zelig.”

 

By Paul Goldfinger, editor @Blogfinger

When Brian Kenny, a master carpenter for thirty years, first saw the c. 1880’s house at 26 Lake Avenue, he observed that the building would need a “major ground-up restoration” of all three floors and that the historic house had great bones –“it was straight as an arrow.”

The building had experienced many alterations over the years, so there were major design challenges. The Beersheba Award presentation, written by Ocean Grove historian Jenny Shaffer, described the house as “quirky.” She said, “As is typical in Ocean Grove, 26 Lake had been altered over the years, and presented an odd, at times bewildering, mixture of forms and styles: it is a sort of Classical Revival meets Foursquare house with a Queen Anne-ish porch.”

The owner of 26 Lake, Peter Barbur, an attorney, had hired a San Francisco architect, Kurt Melander, with Victorian home-design experience, to draw up the plans. Those plans required that all materials be “eco-friendly.” In addition, every aspect had to be historically accurate (using old postcards and existing details for guidance), and every component had to be approved by submitting “shop drawings” to the architect. The concern for the environment transcended the entire restoration, which was just completed after 15 months of work.

Only the best materials were to be used, including clear vertical grained cedar siding, solid wood columns, hand-made moldings, special double-hung windows from Canada, FSC certified lumber from approved forests, copper flashings, “reclaimed” bluestone for the patio (from a cemetery walkway) and specially designed fireplaces for the reworking of the two originals.

Most of the wood features in the house were made by Brian Kenny in his shop in Asbury Park. He is very particular about the small details of his work. He uses only stainless steel fasteners, and all the wood is pre-treated. Kenny’s company has won Beershebas several times in the past, and he is the owner of the “Great Atlantic Porch Company.”

The heating and cooling of the house is provided by a super-efficient geothermal system that derives energy from under the ground. The owner loves to cook, so there is a raised herb garden on one side. On the other are large vegetable and flower planters which were hand made by Kenny. As we walked around the property, he ran his hand over a curved section of molding. He used special tools to mill the various segments that were made to match original details.

As he bent over to pick a weed, he looked around and said, “You know, we also installed a rainwater collection system. All the gutters and downspouts collect water which goes to two 3,500 gallon underground plastic tanks. A pump then provides irrigation to all the plants.”

Although the Beersheba Award was given for the outside, the interior, which we briefly saw, is spectacular and includes a large original stained glass window which is seen as one climbs a very beautiful staircase. You can see it from the outside, but the interior view (see photo below) shows all the colors.

The HPC was very happy with the result. Ms. Shaffer said, “The architects embraced and respected the building’s history. Moreover, they worked to discover lost aspects of this house through the detailed investigation of the visual resources available at the Historical Society.”

The two open porches and the enclosed one offer views of Wesley Lake and Founders Park. The Beersheba award calls 26 Lake “an imposing structure that once again anchors its corner, but, also, fortunately, has not lost the unique features that reflect its history of change.” We didn’t have the opportunity to speak to the owner, but he has to be thrilled with this yellow masterpiece with a red roof — now one of the great houses of Ocean Grove.

ANITA O’DAY  with a Duke Ellington tune which reminds me of the elegance of #26 Lake Avenue.

SLIDE SHOW: All photos by Paul Goldfinger. Run your cursor on the bottom to find a stop and go tool. Note that the gentleman on the 2nd floor porch is builder Brian Kenny.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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Doing what's best for OG. In this case, the Whitfield was recently torn down and will be replaced by single family homes. © Paul Goldfinger photo.

Doing what’s best for OG:   In this case, the Whitfield Hotel was recently torn down and will be replaced by single family homes. Let’s figure out what’s next. It’s not easy.  © Paul Goldfinger photo.

By  Paul Goldfinger, Editor @Blogfinger.  Jack Bredin,Researcher @Blogfinger

So, where do we begin with our discussion regarding the massive fire of March 3, 2017 in Ocean Grove, NJ?  So many questions come to mind. At Blogfinger  we have one news writer, one researcher, a couple of editors, some itinerant citizen photographers/reporters, no fact checkers, no IT staff, no professional journalists, and finally, more questions than answers.  And don’t knock the citizen reporters; after all, Paul Revere was one, and look at what he accomplished.

But what we do have are our readers and our freedom to speak out.   On March 3, there were about 6,000 hits on our site.  Surely some of our readers have expertise that they can share to help us with our questions.  After all, we are an “information sharing website.”

And now, after the fire, we need to create some order out of the many issues to be raised.  We will begin today with a collection of questions.  We will raise a few and ask you to send us some more.  Then, as with our Warrington initiative, we will focus on certain subjects individually.

You may ask a question anonymously or with your actual name. We may post questions without attribution. We have already begun specific topics about fire investigations in town, about current fire damages, and about aspects of the Warrington situation.

At the outset today, the quest for information will be chaotic.  But if we find that certain questions are attracting a great deal of interest, we will dissect them out and give them their own platform on Blogfinger.net.  Meanwhile this post will be the place to suggest more questions and answers.

 

ONE.  Why don’t citizens band together to demand that the Neptune Township Committee immediately change the zoning for the Warrington lot to single family house zoning.  The Committee has the power to override the current site plan which gives special zoning to the Warrington owner. Then the owner will have to present a new site plan to accommodate single family Victorian-style houses..

TWO. Will the Zoning Board of Adjustment prove to the people of Ocean Grove that the Warrington site plan was officially signed and on what date?   Will that site plan allow for a new hotel even though the old hotel is now gone?

THREE.    Lake Avenue is a privately owned lot on the tax map.  The owner is the OGCMA.  It also is designated as “privately owned public open space” which gives the CMA a Green Acres tax deduction.  So, how could the ZBA grant permission for the Warrington developer to encroach on that land?  Did they get DEP approval first?

Blogfinger was told by the ZBA official that there is a permission letter from the CMA to the developer, but does the CMA actually approve of such encroachment into a public walkway? Did the ZBA look into the Green Acres situation before it allowed the Warrington developer to encroach on this public space?

Green Acres sign on Lake Avenue in Ocean Grove. See wording below. Blogfinger photo.

Green Acres sign on Lake Avenue in Ocean Grove. See wording below. Blogfinger photo.

This faded sign above is on Lake Avenue at the foot of the New Jersey Ave. bridge across Wesley Lake and pertains to Lake Avenue.  It says: “GREEN ACRES TAX EXEMPTION PROGRAM. This privately owned land is dedicated for public recreation/conservation. State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. PO Box 412, Trenton, NJ 08625.  NJSA 54:4-3.63 Et. Seq”   If the CMA were to cancel their participation in Green Acres, they would have to pay taxes on the involved property.

FOUR:. Will the Township agree to follow RSIS standards all over town with the exception of single family houses? That would be the first step to stop condoization and mandate single family zoning all over town, as requested by the Master Plan?  This would improve fire safety in OG. Do they realize that three of the major recent fires have involved condominiums or hotels destined to be condominiums?

FIVE:. Do you remember the #50 Main Avenue fire on Feb 6, 2015.?  That one occurred on a Friday and destroyed a building that had apartments upstairs; stores downstairs.  Here is a link that talks about that fire:    Fire chief discusses Main Ave. fire 2/6/15

SIX.  How much insurance was placed on the Warrington?

SEVEN. Who owns the land at the Warrington site? ( CMA or  developer.)  Who owns the cottages near the Warrington which were destroyed, and what happens to those lots if the new Warrington is built?  And what happens to the easement for Lake Ave to Seaview Ave so that the hotel guests, workers, UPS, etc. can get by?

Will the new Warrington developer buy or use those two adjacent sites for an on-site parking lot?  Will the Township force the new Warrington to provide on-site parking, as per RSIS standards?

EIGHT.  Regarding the new Warrington, will the Township allow that building to be placed on a land-locked lot as before?  Will the Township continue turning its back on NJ Land Use Laws?

NINE.   Is it true that the owner of the 50 unit La Pierre rental building is the same person who owns the Warrington?   When a building burns down, does the owner still have to pay ground rent when the building no longer exists?

TEN.  From Old Timer:
Real estate – will people still want to move to OG?
Insurance – will everyone’s home insurance increase?
Aesthetics – is OG becoming a continuous disaster area (major fires
and Sandy)? Will it ever be normal (“good old days”)?

ELEVEN.  From Bythesea:

Looking ahead…what is likely to happen to the affected land? There is now a large new area to be redeveloped that is right up against the existing North End redevelopment zone. Could the consequence of this fire be more non-conforming development as an integrated part of the North End monstrosity development? If the fire was intentionally set, which they will figure out, then maybe the ultimate motivation for the perpetrators is to enable the North End to take on an additional dimension that was not possible before.

Conspiracy thinking, I know. But this is Neptune Township in bed with unscrupulous, money grabbing developers.

TWELVE:  From Citizen:

Who is running Neptune Township? Is it the Governing Body or is it a shadow government with non-elected individuals, such as developers,  manipulating elected puppets and telling them what to do?   This is not unheard of in local governments.

THIRTEEN:   From Suffering Surfer:

Are there laws regarding a work site? If not, why not? We need laws such as: an uninhabited work site in Ocean Grove, such as a derelict building being renovated, must be properly secured when workers are not present and all electricity and gas must be turned off.

JAMES TAYLOR:

 

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Cottage. Seaview Avenue. 3/4/17. By Stephen Goldfinger, Blogfinger staff. ©

Start the music and then look at the photos.    Cottage. Seaview Avenue. 3/4/17. By Stephen Goldfinger, Blogfinger staff. ©

Looking across to Seaview.  3/4/17. By Stephen Goldfinger, Blogfinger staff.

Looking across to Seaview. 3/4/17. Wind chill 17 degrees.  By Stephen Goldfinger, Blogfinger staff.

BOB DYLAN:  From his album Shadows in the Night   (Composer Irving Berlin)

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From Tim:   “I live on Lake Avenue and was of course evacuated yesterday. We dig and read your blog on the regular.

“Amidst the chaos and tragedy unfolding early yesterday morning, I recorded a couple minutes of footage. It’s from about 6am, a closeup view of remarkable first responders working their asses off to save our community. ”

 

 

 

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