Posts Tagged ‘Condos in Ocean Grove’

By Charles Layton

For the past two weeks, people on this blog have been discussing the interrelated topics of parking, New Jersey land use law, and the conversion of old hotels into condominiums (a trend many of you deplore).

I think I speak for everyone when I say that this stuff is too thorny for amateurs. Most of us haven’t followed the history of zoning, and we don’t know the jargon — RSIS regulations, special area standards — yikes!

Yet, when Kevin Chambers claims, as he did in a posting on January 31, that what Neptune has been doing – letting condos be built with no provision for parking — violates the law, it is our burden as citizens to try to understand what he means.

So I’ve spent the past two days poring over the scores of comments published here, and I’ve also read most of the key documents people have referred to.

If you’ll bear with me, I’ll try to lay out, as simply as possible, what I think it adds up to. Please excuse some of the bureaucratic gobbledygook.  And please, also, understand that I’m no expert; take this with a grain of salt.


Here is the history:

On June 3, 1997, New Jersey gave birth to a body of land use law called Residential Site Improvement Standards. That mouthful is usually shortened to RSIS. These standards deal with sewers, storm water, streets and the like. And they establish rules for how much parking a builder must provide for condos, townhouses, single-family homes — all kinds of residences.

Neptune Township happens to have an ordinance especially for the Historic District of Ocean Grove that conflicts with these state rules. Our ordinance prohibits off-street parking requirements and driveways for new residences. The justification is mainly that driveways, curb cuts and garages erode the historic character of Ocean Grove. There were no cars when this town was founded, so its architecture and town plan made no provision for off-street parking. And if we monkey too much with the town plan, we might lose our Historic District status. It is also argued that Ocean Grove is unusually compact (at least 24 units per acre in most parts of town) and its lots are unusually small (30 feet in width). The argument is that a driveway curb cut severely limits the amount of on-street parking, with the net effect of giving us less parking space overall. (While that argument works for single-family houses, it’s less persuasive when applied to a multi-unit condo development.)

On January 25, 2005, Neptune received a letter from the state Division of Codes and Standards pointing out the obvious — that our local ordinance violates the RSIS and is therefore legally invalid. However, the letter said Neptune could apply for special permission, in the form of what’s called a “special area standard.”

On October 26, 2007, Neptune did apply. It asked the New Jersey Site Improvement Advisory Board, which enforces RSIS, to let it retain its own separate regulations. Its application laid out all the arguments mentioned above.

On February 21, 2008 and again on September 18, 2008 the board held hearings on Neptune’s request.

On September 29, 2009, Neptune received a letter from the chairman of the board stating that there was insufficient evidence to justify a special standard for Ocean Grove. This letter reiterated that the Neptune ordinance was inconsistent with the RSIS and therefore invalid. However, the letter said the board was “willing to work with the Township” if it decided to submit a new or different request.

During all these years of negotiation, of course, quite a number of residences have been built in Ocean Grove, on Ocean Pathway and elsewhere. According to the RSIS law, those residences should have included off-street parking. But, because the buildings followed Neptune’s law rather than state law, no such parking was provided. In fact, by local law, the builders were forbidden to have off-street parking even if they’d wanted it.

How much off-street parking are we talking about? Well, under the RSIS standards, new condo developments must provide room for 1.8 off-street parking spaces for each one-bedroom unit, 2.0 spaces for each two-bedroom unit and 2.1 spaces for each three-bedroom unit. Obviously, the kind of density we’ve seen lately in Ocean Grove condos wouldn’t be possible had the condo builders been required to follow this legal standard. But because Ocean Grove builders continued to follow the local standard, they provided no parking at all, except for parking on the street.

A few Ocean Grovers, most notably Kevin Chambers, have been arguing for years that Neptune was in defiance of the law, and that the practice of allowing new condos without parking should be stopped. Chambers has made some enemies in the course of pressing this case.

But without judging whether all this condoization is good or bad, the historical record does seem to support Chambers’ claim that it’s illegal. And although nobody can now undo what’s already built, surely as citizens we could insist that all future condos provide off-street parking for their residents — unless the state changes its mind and gives Neptune some sort of exemption.

In conclusion, allow me to say that if Township officials, developers or others have a different perspective, or see errors in what’s written here, please give us the benefit of your knowledge. We are trying to feel our way forward on this issue. We are hungry for sound, detailed information. We will gladly correct anything that needs correcting.

Also, since the mother of all Ocean Grove condo projects is the proposed North End Redevelopment, we should point out in closing that the Township has provided, by law, that RSIS standards for off-street parking be followed in that case. That is to say, approximately two off-street parking spaces are required for each residential unit. In addition, the North End plan requires one off-street parking space for each hotel room. The North End is a special case because sites deemed to be “in need of redevelopment” fall outside the normal zoning process. It is the only such special case in Ocean Grove.

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