By Kevin Chambers, Ocean Grove resident and activist.
The State Legislature enacted the first zoning enabling and planning acts in 1928 and 1930, respectively. Within these acts the state mandated that municipalities may not exercise their authority in ways which conflict with authority exercised by county, state, or federal governments.
Since 1928, this act has made it illegal to land-lock* any property within the state of NJ. In other words, the Township was banned from writing into its zoning an ordinance that prohibits curb cuts or driveways. Also this prohibited the OGCMA from prohibiting any person from crossing their property to access their lot.
When the state enacted RSIS in 1968, it further required that all municipalities rewrite their zoning ordinances requiring that the definition for a conforming lot must now include on-site parking. This barred Neptune from using the 30×60 foot lot size or 1800 square foot lot size as a conforming lot size definition within its Master Plan and zoning ordinance. Since that time, Neptune has been in contempt of court with each of its hearings dealing with Ocean Grove.
Regardless of the illegal zoning Neptune has established for OG, state zoning law still requires parking, through either the ordinance or through a variance.
All applications for new construction must seek a variance within Neptune if their lot is less than 5,000 square feet, which is the legal definition for a conforming single family lot in Neptune. But no matter whether a variance is granted, Neptune’s zoning must include the right within its zoning to have a driveway. It cannot deny a driveway within its zoning; that is in violation of law and in contempt of court.
*In real estate, “landlocked” refers to a property that has no frontage or direct access to a public street, so the only way on or off the property is to cross land owned by someone else. Usually, a landlocked property gains street access through a legal permission called an easement.
CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL:
“Long as I remember the rain been coming down.
Clouds of myst’ry pouring confusion on the ground.
Good men through the ages, trying to find the sun;
And I wonder, still I wonder, who’ll stop the rain.”
The recent articles on Blogfinger about the quest for a driveway at 27 Heck Avenue, are about much more than a place to park one car. In the grand scheme of things, as some have stated, we have a lot more problems in the Grove than whether to allow a homeowner to build a driveway on his property. But that doesn’t mean that we should ignore seemingly small issues.
Small issues can represent much larger ones which may be revealed in one of our posts when citizens participate in the discussions and share their curious questions, opinions and knowledge.
In the process of discussing the Sampler driveway, our readers have invoked the following issues:
Enforcing the land use laws in our town
Special political and land use treatment (favoritism) for certain people in town
Failure of the efforts to solve the parking problems
Use of inappropriate historic precedents in making current decisions. For example the subdivision of the Whitfield site.
Understanding Township ordinances, Master Plan, subdivisions, lot conformity, and zoning.
Variances and what they do
What is the flare and can you park in the flare?
Do campaign contributions influence the decisions of Neptune politicians?
Role of citizen activists in opposing efforts to diminish our town
What are curb cuts?
Are new Victorians historic?
What are RSIS standards regarding parking?
What is the role of the CMA in situations such as this?
What is the role of the HOA—where have they been up to now regarding land use topics?
15 What goes on at those Zoning Board meetings?
Is there equal justice in the Grove?
And this is why we at Blogfinger find our efforts on behalf of the town to be so satisfying. The driveway topic is about getting from here to there at the old Sampler site, but the resultant discussions are about so much more.
RITCHIE HAVENS AND THE PRESERVATION HALL JAZZ BAND:
The Whitfield Hotel in 2015. The front of the lot is on Surf Avenue facing north (60.5 feet wide). The back is on Bath Avenue, facing south (60.5 feet). The side is 103 feet long on Beach Avenue facing the ocean. This property, #20 Surf Avenue in OG, is zoned for one lot (Block 113, Lot 10.)
Not only are there now 4 foundations on that one lot site, but those lots would have to be undersized. 30 x 60 is the minimum lot size requirement for Ocean Grove. The size of the rectangular Whitfield site is 103 feet long, and four regulation lots would need a minimum of 120 feet along each side. But the Whitfield lots would have to fit into 103 feet, and they are, by definition, undersized.
Everyone we have spoken to, including Township officials, residents who live near the Whitfield, and concerned Grovers tell us that the Whitfield site will become 4 detached single family homes, and almost everyone seems delighted. But should they be?
The excavation has begun, and we now know that there are four foundations. And a source tell us that the developer has been officially “approved” for placing 4 homes at that site. But who allowed work to begin without a 4 lot subdivision being blessed by the Neptune Township Planning Board?
We asked around and learned, mostly from people in the know, that Bernard Haney, the long-standing Tax Assessor in Neptune Township, who also wears a second hat, that of Land Use Administrator, was responsible for that decision.
Here is how the procedure should work. First the developer orders a survey map of the property. The survey map shows the exact size of the lot, and the map is used to prepare a site plan/subdivision.
This is a plan which shows where the buildings will be “sited” on the subdivided property pursuant to the zoning and the subdivision ordinance. The site plan is part of an application for development and is to be filed with the Township Building Department.
The site plan is then prepared and signed by a licensed professional who in this case would clearly show on the cover page that the applicant wants to subdivide the property into 4 undersized (nonconforming) lots.
However, the problem is that there is no type of variance or procedure that would permit a conforming lot to be subdivided into any nonconforming lots.
The application should have been referred to the Planning Board for a public hearing, but that referral was never made. We checked with the Planning Board secretary who verified that she was not instructed to schedule a hearing on the Planning Board agenda.
Approved subdivisions are recorded on the tax map under the supervision of the Township Engineer. As such, the Township Engineer should have been asked to review the plan and prepare a written report for the Planning Board. The Neptune Engineer said she received no such request.
We learned that after the subdivision approval, the approved plan was sent to the Building Department to issue permits for the 4 single family houses, or, at least, for the foundation work which is now in progress.
It appears that the current 2014 tax map, which clearly shows one existing lot at the Whitfield site, not four, was ignored. That lot would ordinarily require a subdivision if more than one single family house is proposed.
We were told that Mr. Haney decided that after the demolition, the current empty lot would automatically revert to an 1879 tax map which showed 4 lots and to declare that the 2017 post demolition lot was already subdivided into 4 lots.
This maneuver by the Township appears to be a technique to allow 4 single family houses to be built on a lot where only 3 can be permitted.
Even if this method of circumventing the usual approach to subdivisions turns out to be acceptable, the application still should have been referred to the Planning Board.
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?
A small rehab center for short term care in W. Palm Beach Fla. Internet photo.
By Paul Goldfinger, Editor at Blogfinger.net
As we noted recently, Gov. Christie said that he would prioritize the problem of opioid substance abuse which has caused many deaths in New Jersey, especially in Essex, Ocean, Camden, and Monmouth Counties.
He is promoting a new bill that would mandate insurance coverage for such treatment by commercial companies. Federal mandates already exist for Medicaid.
Philly.com says, “While the Affordable Care Act requires substance-abuse coverage, New Jersey could account for the federal law’s potential repeal by passing state legislation.” (Source article by Philly.com reporter Maddie Hanna.)
“If the federal law goes away, it reverts to whatever the old state law was,” said Joel Cantor, founding director of the Center for State Health Policy at Rutgers University.
Very few states have such laws. The N.J. proposal would provide for inpatient coverage for up to 30 days for those who qualify. There have been some objections about the emphasis on inpatient vs. outpatient care. The Laingdon proposal for Ocean Grove would seem to fall under the heading of outpatient care, although maybe the housing component would categorize it as inpatient care. Regardless, increased funding would increase the pressure to create more such services for those who would be housed while undergoing treatment. (This is the model described for the Laingdon/Sprout concept.)
Our town would be a perfect location for places to house clients after an inpatient admission or for outpatient care. We have old hotels/boarding houses as well as homes (especially multi-family) which could be used for small residential operations doing short term care. But if there is an explosion of investment in such facilities in NJ, the article says that there will be zoning battles around the state (see quote below.)
Here is another quote from the Hanna piece, “There is an inadequate supply of substance-abuse treatment services, period. Not just in New Jersey, but around the country.”
“Others spoke Monday of challenges to opening treatment centers, including zoning battles. ‘I used to have a saying: It’s easier to open up a gentlemen’s club in this state than it is to open up a drug and alcohol treatment program. And that’s not far off from the truth,’ Tom Allen, co-founder of Summit Behavioral Health, told Senate lawmakers.”
It’s important for those of us who care about the Grove’s future, our lifestyles, our historical preservation, and our home values to keep an eye on zoning approvals and to take them seriously as precedent-setting events.
We cautioned about the zoning manipulation that allowed Mary’s Place, but hardly anyone seemed to care. And, even though the Laingdon application was withdrawn, we need to stay alert. The key will be the Zoning Board of Adjustment use variances
Here is a link and a quote taken from our December 6 post about the Pizza Building (#58-60 Main Avenue) and its application for variances.
In that article we say, “It seems that the owners want to finesse this project by having it sail through the calm waters of the Planning Board on Wednesday, December 14, 7 pm, in the Municipal Building.”
Report from the Planning Board meeting. Dec 14, 2016 in Neptune Township:
In June, when the lawyer for Sackman Co., the owner of the Pizza Building (#50-60 Main Ave,) first wanted to get a variance to add a third floor and use it to create five 2-bedroom condos, the Administrative Officer for the Neptune Twp. Planning and Zoning boards, Kristie Armour, decided that the lawyer, Andrew Karis, Esq, should bring his application to the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA.) The application was marked “ZBA.” But Karas disagreed with her, insisting that the Planning Board was where he should be. It was not clear why he would not take her advice.
Then someone at Neptune Twp. reversed her decision, and the application was placed on the agenda for tonight’s Planning Board meeting. We don’t know who changed the Board selection , exactly how it got changed, or why, but the Mayor should look into the process. Sackman has every right to improve his property, but procedures should be followed to protect the best interests of the community of Ocean Grove.
So tonight, at the Planning Board regular meeting, the Sackman lawyer, dressed in a nice suit and carrying a large briefcase, showed up with a small entourage, confident that the Planning Board would hand him an easy variance for what he wanted. He even said that he expected to sail right through.
But he ran into resistance. The Board wanted to know why he wouldn’t go to the obvious place, the ZBA, but his answer was unclear.
Karas’ confidence was shaken when he tried to debate the Board’s Planner Jennifer Beahm. She told the Board’s Chair, Sharon Davis, that “the applicant was before the wrong board.” Ms. Beahm was not forgiving when Mr. Karas tried to persuade her to ignore the Township’s clear ordinance which said that adding 5 extra bedrooms and sharply increasing the density of that site would be illegal, so the application must go to the ZBA for a D variance.
Karas cited some prior case as a precedent, but Mark Kitrick, the Board’s attorney, was not impressed.
So Ms. Davis rejected the application saying, “The Board would not accept the jurisdiction.” But the Pizza attorney, rattled by the turn of events, continued to insist that he was before the correct board.
For some reason, Kitrick left the door open for Karas to return with a better prepared argument next month. Why is Karas so afraid of the Board of Adjustment?
At the end of the meeting, during the Public Portion, Jack Bredin went to the microphone to make some points regarding the procedures at play in cases like this one. The Board’s lawyer gave Jack a hard time over technicalities, and Jack was harassed and interrupted when he went to the microphone. Yet Jack managed to make a few points before he had to sit down.
He said that the Sackman lawyer, who disagreed with the June ZBA decision, should have appealed to the ZBA within 20 days. But somehow the applicant was able to go before the Planning Board without filing that appeal——What’s wrong with this picture?
JIMMY BUFFETT with “Stars Fell on Alabama.” Do you have a few minutes to meditate on a hopeful turn of events last night?
“We lived our little drama
We kissed in a field of white
And stars fell on Alabama
As reported before on Blogfinger, Ocean Grover Kevin Chambers sued the Township and the developer over what he called illegal zoning in the rebuilding of #50 Main Avenue, a retail/residential building. The judge did not agree with Kevin’s arguments in the case. That doesn’t mean that Kevin was wrong. We expect to hear from him with a formal statement. Meanwhile, there is the possibility of an appeal.
If you visit the site, you will be impressed with the setback which seems to leave a relatively narrow passageway between the building and the curb. But the developer has defended that setback as being consistent with what existed before, and the project did obtain approvals from the Township.
At this morning’s HOA meeting, the membership voted, by an estimated 3:1 margin, to defeat Jack Bredin’s motion, which would have supported a plan to promote single family home zoning throughout Ocean Grove. We have spelled out the technical details of this subject in our many recent posts.
This vote means that the OGHOA, Board and membership, will be supportive as Neptune Township continues to approve condominium buildings without parking and to maintain its ongoing policy to defy State Land Use Law .
The OGHOA has become an impotent organization without any coherent values to protect the Grove from greedy developers and unprincipled elected officials.
At Blogfinger we tried to warn everyone. It’s not that we care about what that crew at the HOA Board thinks, but we do care about what Grovers think , so the vote today was disappointing.
We will continue to report the news, but we are done trying to encourage our HOA neighbors into opposing those who would exploit our town.
We are not giving up on Ocean Grove, but we will divert our attention from the HOA, an organization which has straight-lined as far as we are concerned.
Paul Goldfinger, Editor @Blogfinger Jack Bredin, Researcher.
This is getting ridiculous. First we had the Manchester Inn conflagration on March 13, 2010 and then there was the destructive Surf Avenue fire on March 11, 2011. Recently a tent burned down—that’s enough to make anybody tense.
Now we add the Main Avenue fire of February 6, 2015. Throughout Ocean Grove’s history there have been many fires which destroyed tinder box buildings including large hotels and boarding hoses.
But you would think that we would have been able to avoid repeats by using superior technology. Of course, many cases are due to human carelessness, and even Smoky the Bear can’t prevent that.
In 2011, an article in Blogfinger questioned the quality of fire investigations in Ocean Grove by County investigators. Here is a link to a review of that subject. Hopefully they have improved in that area. Note that none of these fires were found to be suspicious, not even the tent fire where the electricity and gas had been turned off. Spontaneous combustion perhaps? And how about the “Friday February Fire of 2015?” We’re told that it is “currently under investigation.”
So now we have another big fire which will leave a large empty lot on Main Avenue, sort of like the large lots we acquired around the Manchester Inn and on Surf Ave. in the past.
In those locations, opulent single family homes went up. Before the Manchester burned there was talk of converting the building into condos, but that was not to be. Interestingly, the owner of that Inn said that rebuilding the hotel was economically unfeasible.
The Sampler was demolished, and that site remains empty, awaiting construction of two Victorian wannabes. Meanwhile we have another blank space on Main Avenue.
The other double empty lot on the second Beach block of Main Ave. will be where Mary’s Place will be constructed. I think something burned down there in the past. (anybody know?) That zoning story was discussed recently on BF.
So what will happen to the new vacant lots at the site of Friday’s fire? Based on past experience, whatever happens will not be decided by the citizens, no matter how many hearings are held. Representative government in this town is in some respects deficient, at least as far as those who live here are concerned. Transparency of processes needs to be improved, such as in the zoning arena. But, if we are dissatisfied , whose fault is that? Just look in the mirror.