Posts Tagged ‘derelict buildings in Ocean Grove’

By Charles Layton

Marshall Koplitz, owner of the notorious Park View Inn building on Seaview Avenue, has again failed to meet his obligations under a court order, prompting Neptune Township attorney Gene Anthony to accuse him of acting in bad faith.

This week, in a letter, Anthony gave notice to Koplitz’ lawyer that her client is in default of the court order. By our count this marks the fourth time this year that Anthony has threatened to take Koplitz back to Municipal Court for being in default.

Koplitz and the Township negotiated a consent order in July of 2011, in which he promised the court and the Township that he would renovate the boarded-up and dilapidated Park View Inn according to a specific five-phase schedule. This agreement came after years of conflict with the Township, with neighbors and with the Ocean Grove Fire Commissioners over the dangerously run-down condition of his hotel.

Although he has since met some of that agreement’s deadlines, he has missed others, to the frustration of many long-suffering Ocean Grove residents living nearby.

Marshall Koplitz at an HPC meeting last December. Photo by Charles Layton

Marshall Koplitz at an HPC meeting last December. Photo by Charles Layton

The subject of this week’s letter, from Anthony to attorney Michelle Lebovitz Lamar, was Koplitz’ failure to submit revised architectural plans to the Township. Although Koplitz did submit plans, Anthony wrote that those plans “have not been responsive to the requirements of the Construction Department.” Given that the department requested revisions “as early as June 6, 2012,” Anthony wrote, “it is hard to believe that proper corrections and completion of such plans have not been completed six (6) months later.” The delay, he said, “is unreasonable and is tantamount to bad faith on the part of your client.”

Asked for comment, Lamar told Blogfinger that it was her policy not to “speak to the press about any of my clients.” (Koplitz himself has failed to return our phone calls on several occasions. He has an open invitation from us to explain his side of these disputes at any time.)

Anthony said if Koplitz does not respond with the proper complete architectural plans by December 25, he will take the case back to Municipal Court. Under the consent order, if the court finds Koplitz in default he could be fined $35,000 or more.

NOTE: For extensive background on Koplitz and his various clashes with Neptune over property maintenance and safety issues, just type “Marshall Koplitz” at the top right corner of this page.

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By Charles Layton

The Park View, seen from the Wesley Lake side. Photo by Charles Layton

It’s been more than two years since neighbors presented Neptune Township with a petition, asking that something be done about the dangerously derelict Park View Inn at 23 Sea View Avenue.

Although the Township has since taken the owner, Marshall Koplitz, to court and forced him to agree to rehab the building, little tangible progress has been made in the building itself. It remains an eyesore. Neighbors still live in fear that it could catch fire and burn them out of their homes. One elderly man who lives nearby is said to keep a packed bag beside his door in case he suddenly has to flee for his life.

But now these neighbors have a new concern. They say that paint, possibly contaminated with lead, is spreading from the Park View onto their properties. “You’ve got paint peeling, chips are blowing off the building, and the neighbors are getting it on their porches, it’s on the street, it’s in the alleys,” one man said.

This man, who wishes to remain anonymous for now, recently bought a lead detection kit and used it to test samples of the paint chips from the Park View. Most of those samples tested positive for lead, he said.

He and some friends are now circulating a new petition, which they hope to deliver soon to the Township Committee. It asks that the Township perform its own independent testing to confirm the existence of lead. “If lead paint is found,” the petition says, “we would ask that the Township of Neptune take steps to correct this situation immediately.”

“Our concern is for little kids, for pets, you know,” one of the petitioners said. “I don’t know what danger that paint is to adults unless you actually eat it, but I suspect if the town found out about it they would have to do something to get rid of the lead paint.”

The test kit these neighbors used contains pencil-like swabs. When a swab is pressed against a surface, such as the surface of a paint chip, a liquid chemical causes its tip to turn red if lead is present. If no lead is present, the tip of the swab remains white.

When this test was applied to the paint samples from The Park View, neighbors said, most of the samples turned the swabs red.

This swab turned red, indicating lead, when it was touched to one of the paint chips from the Park View Inn. Photo by Mary Walton

Some of the neighbors along Sea View Avenue are losing faith that the Township has the determination to force Koplitz to fix up his property. Back in June of 2010, when 33 of these neighbors submitted their previous petition, they were given to understand that the Township would keep them informed from that point forward. But this has not happened. “We’re getting no feedback from the Township,” one of the petitioners — the man with the lead test kit — said.

They worry that Koplitz will continue to make excuses and stall, just as he has done for years — and just as he did with The Sampler Inn, another of his derelict buildings that became a public nuisance and was finally demolished in 2009. Their greatest fear is of a fire breaking out inside the Park View and spreading to nearby homes, which has happened on two other occasions in the same general vicinity in recent years.

Marshall Koplitz

Koplitz is under a court order to rehab the Park View on a specific schedule, but the neighbors have yet to see many visible signs of improvement. He was, this spring, twice declared in default of the court agreement, although the Township’s head of code and construction, Bill Doolittle, has since said he is back in compliance. Still, so far as anyone in the neighborhood knows, he has not yet obtained bank financing for this rehab project, as the court order requires. A workman who has entered the building in recent months told one of the neighbors that the place remains a total mess inside.

To be fair, though, there was one positive development this week. Workers showed up and cut the grass and then edged all around the property.

Neighbors say chips of paint, like those shown here, are peeling off and blowing onto adjacent properties. Photo by Mary Walton

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People lined up all down the block for The Sampler Inn’s cafeteria food and convivial atmosphere. Photo courtesy Historical Society of Ocean Grove

By Charles Layton  @Blogfinger

By the time the Township demolished it in 2009, The Sampler Inn had stood at 28 Main Avenue for approximately 90 years. It was one of Ocean Grove’s most beloved institutions. As you can see from the photo above, people used to flock to its cafeteria for a traditional fare that included whipped sweet potatoes, creamed spinach, macaroni and cheese, lamb chops, ham with raisin sauce, a rich array of desserts and, at breakfast, among other things, a generous selection of hot cereals.

But the years took their toll. When The Sampler’s absentee owners filed for bankruptcy in 2006, the place had become a first-class public nuisance — boarded up, empty and gutted on the inside, unmaintained, with a caving-in roof and other structural atrocities. Teenagers broke into the place in summer to prowl and explore. Vagrants camped there in winter, sometimes drinking, sometimes warming themselves before sterno stoves.

Jeff Dean, who lived on Heck Avenue just behind The Sampler, said if the place had ever caught fire “the whole neighborhood would have been gone.” Another neighbor, Danny Beaman, said, “I remember being in bed and hearing noises and getting out of bed and running to see if The Sampler was on fire.” Some of the people living closest to The Sampler were disabled or elderly; they’d have had a tough time escaping from a raging inferno. “The Sampler was two feet from my mother’s house,” said Lisa Noll. (Her mother was in her early 80s, and a man living in the same house was in his 90s.)

The neighbors, especially those on Heck in the second block from the beach, fought for years against the menace that The Sampler had become. It was a battle to defend their properties, their peace of mind and, as they saw it, their very lives. But it was also a battle for the common good of Ocean Grove, alerting people in this town, and some people in government, to take derelict buildings more seriously.

One recent evening some of those Heck Avenue neighbors got together over refreshments in Beaman’s living room and relived their experiences. Theirs is a story that needs to be recorded and remembered. Lessons can be learned about the power of aroused and well-organized citizens.

Some (but by no means all) of the veterans of the Sampler campaign. Front, l. to r.: Kirsten Beneke, Sue Beneke, Danny Beaman, Carmen Rivera and Lisa Noll. Standing: Jay Shapiro, Gloria Wigert and Jeff Dean. Photo by Mary Walton

Some had fond memories. Although Sue Beneke, who lived right next door to The Sampler, endured years of anxiety and inconvenience, even she considered the place “a beautiful institution.” Her daughter, Kirsten, recalled how, as a child, she would go to the side door of the kitchen every morning and get a muffin for breakfast. Another Heck resident, Carmen Rivera, volunteered to teach English to a young girl from Poland who worked at The Sampler. Relations were usually neighborly, and when a problem arose people tended to seek constructive solutions. Beneke said some of the college kids who worked in the kitchen used to play a radio very loud at 5 o’clock in the morning. “So I bought them all radio head sets, and they actually used them,” she said.

Still, even before the place became a total wreck, there were problems, many associated with the kitchen, which faced Heck Avenue. One problem was rodents.

Beaman: “I used to watch from my front porch. There was a hole in the back wall where the cats would line up and wait for the mice to run out. It was amusing; they would wait in line patiently for the next mouse to come out, and then they would go chasing after it.”

Noise and truck pollution were less amusing. At a certain point, the neighbors said, large trucks started arriving at 5 a.m. to deliver goods to the kitchen. They would leave their engines running, filling the street with foul-smelling exhaust.

Then there was the leaking garbage — “dumpster juice” and “dumpster puddles” they called it. The odor drove people inside. “I just remember one summer day all of us had to go inside our houses because the garbage was leaking out of the dumpster,” Jay Shapiro said. “It was bad.”

Sue Beneke recalled “big canisters of fat” in back of the kitchen. “We tried to build a fence around the back of the kitchen, that would hide the fat vats and the dumpsters and everything,” Beneke said. “We drew the design. And then I went over there to the owners and said, ‘All the neighbors will even pay for it. We’ll pay for this beautiful Victorian fence for the kitchen, take the loading dock down.’ We were even going to make it like a French bistro. But they would not let us do it.”


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This building at 17 Spray Avenue had been cited as unsafe as far back as the 1980s. On September 2, 2008, it burned. Coaster photo

By Charles Layton

We’ve had some lively conversation on this website in recent days about the need (or lack of need) to take action when properties in Ocean Grove are abandoned or neglected by their owners and fall into disrepair.

Some people think it’s our duty as citizens to call attention to such problem properties. Others disagree; that kind of vigilance, they say, amounts to harassment of those who can’t always afford to keep their homes in pristine condition.

However, the fact is that an empty building in disrepair is more than just an eyesore or a drag on local property values. In Ocean Grove, especially, it can be an urgent danger.

Let’s look at some history. In 2008, a spectacular fire destroyed an old storage building at 17 Spray Avenue. That fire severely scorched and peeled the siding on a home directly across the street and also did minor damage to another nearby home. The Coaster quoted Mayor Randy Bishop, who lives nearby, as saying that the fire “could have been a tremendous disaster.” Other neighbors agreed. It was lucky, they said, that the wind blew the flames and embers back toward Wesley Lake instead of the other way, toward the town.

That fire shouldn’t have happened. The public record shows that Neptune Township tolerated what it knew to be dangerous conditions at 17 Spray for many years before the building finally went up in flames.

A Township inspection in 1988 found “a large pile of lumber and other combustible debris” on the grounds. The owner, the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, was cited, and the dangerous condition was abated. However, the abatement was temporary. The building continued to deteriorate. In 1999 a Township inspection found, among other problems, cracked masonry walls, roof tiles falling onto the sidewalk and trash and debris all over the yard.

In the ensuing years numerous summonses were issued. Fines were threatened but not imposed. In fact, the Township backed off. At one point the Township had threatened to take the owner to court, but in 2005 all summonses were dismissed, and all fines were forgiven.

In February of 2008, the Township inspected the building again, found it to be “unsound” and “unsafe” and ordered the CMA to either demolish it or correct the unsafe conditions. Parts of the roof were collapsing and parts of the building were open to the weather, according to a Township citation, “causing interior deterioration of structural elements.”

But negotiations resulted in further delays until finally, on the night of September 2, 2008, fire destroyed the whole thing.

To some Ocean Grovers, the lesson was that tolerating a persisting dangerous condition is not a virtue.

Here is another piece of history. When The Sampler Inn at 28 Main Avenue, closed and neglected, fell into serious disrepair, neighbors on Heck Avenue took action. They organized and fought to have the problems corrected. Township inspections showed that the building was in terrible condition and could easily catch fire. Bill Doolittle, Neptune’s director of code and construction, said his greatest fear was a “fire storming” effect, in which “fire jumps from one building to the next to the next” across Ocean Grove.

And so, in 2009, despite strenuous resistance by the owners, the Township had the building demolished.

If the Spray Avenue fire taught us the danger of complacency, the Sampler experience proved that if citizens and neighbors organize and fight –and if they persist — it’s possible to resolve such problems. (A corollary lesson is that the government acts more forcefully if it is prodded and pushed by citizens.)

The above examples, along with others, have led many Ocean Grovers — and some Township officials — to the firm belief that citizens must act as watchmen. When a problem arises, they must make it known. And when an owner tries to minimize the problem, it’s unwise just to take him at his word. (The lawyer for The Sample Inn, at a public hearing, characterized the problems there as “aesthetic” in nature.)

The issue is not harassment of well-meaning owners who can’t afford to paint their homes as often as we might like. And a group of citizens petitioning for redress of a problem is not akin to a “lynch mob,” as some have suggested. Portraying it as such evades the point, which is that a derelict building is better dealt with before the problem becomes truly dire.

There is a sweet spot between petty harassment of our neighbors and the kind of indulgence that led to the Spray Avenue fire. As we argue individual cases, let’s do so in that reasonable context.

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By Charles Layton

On Thursday, under legal pressure, the owner of one of Ocean Grove’s worst derelict houses agreed in court to correct all outstanding maintenance violations — except for painting — within one week. The court gave him a longer deadline, 90 days, to get the painting done.

The agreement did not address whatever problems may exist in the interior of the unoccupied house at 24 McClintock Street, although those problems may be extensive. Asked about those problems, the owner’s attorney, Jennifer Krimko said, “We don’t know yet what we’re going to do for the future. All we know is we’re going to be compliant with the agreement.”

Neighbors petitioned the Township about 24 McClintock last June, saying the place was an eyesore and that they feared a fire might break out and spread to other homes. Later that month, owner Jason Richelson of Brooklyn, NY, entered into a court agreement in which he paid a $1,000 fine and promised to correct all maintenance violations within six months. That deadline expired the last week of December, with no repairs having been made.

On Thursday, the Township’s attorney, Gene Anthony, told Municipal Court Judge Robin Wernik that progress had been made in recent days, but “I still feel he’s in violation.” After Richelson admitted to Wernik that he had violated his June agreement, she accepted a new plea agreement under which Richelson was fined an additional $500, he promised to have the house painted within 90 days, and he promised to have all other required maintenance work to the house’s exterior completed within one week. Krimko said the longer deadline for painting was necessary because of the weather.

About two weeks ago, with a new court date having been scheduled, maintenance work was finally begun on the home, including the repair of windows and the front porch. Krimko said Thursday that Richelson has also received the Historic Preservation Commission’s permission to repaint the house in the same existing shade of light blue.

Lynn Merry, who collected 29 names of concerned neighbors on a petition last spring, was in the courtroom during the hearing. She said she viewed the plea agreement as “positive progress, assuming he follows through with the outside repairs.” However, she said, “As I see it, we still have a potential fire hazard back there. It remains an abandoned house. A new coat of paint will not make me feel any safer.”

The original list of maintenance violations cited by Neptune Code Enforcement included broken windows, rotted porch posts and other structural members, broken shingles, damaged eaves, door and window frames in disrepair, loose and rotting materials on exterior walls, and problems with gutters and downspouts.

Even if all the cited problems are corrected, the future of 24 McClintock remains in doubt. No Township official has ever inspected the building’s interior, and since the house has stood unoccupied and in disrepair for years, its interior problems are thought to be serious. An ad for the property on the real estate site Zillow.com contains this caveat for potential buyers: “Only builders should consider [buying this property] because it needs to be rebuilt completely.” Local builder/realtor Jack Green, who used to be the agent for this property, told us: “The whole house is gutted on the inside. It’s just two-by-fours.”

There is a sign on the front of the house that reads “For Sale By Owner” and gives a New York City phone number.

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1. Neptune Township Attorney Gene Anthony said Monday that before signing a consent order to rehab the Park View Inn, one of its owners, Marshall Koplitz, told the Township that funding was available for the project. Anthony was responding to a question at the Township Committee meeting, posed by Kennedy Buckley of Ocean Grove. Buckley cited a recent Blogfinger story (read it here) revealing that in 2009 the owners had defaulted on a $2.75 million renovation loan for the Park View, and questioning whether they could get another such loan now. Kennedy asked whether Koplitz had “hornswaggled” the Township and the Municipal Court by failing to disclose the default and the litigation that followed.

Anthony said Koplitz “specifically indicated the availability of funding” before he signed the consent order in July. He said Koplitz had originally wanted the entire deal with the Township to be contingent on his ability to get funding, but the Township refused to agree to that contingency. Therefore, Anthony said, if Koplitz fails to get bank financing it will put him in default on the entire agreement and subject him to heavy financial penalties.

2. The hot topic at the Township Committee meeting Monday night had to do with sagging pants worn by some of Neptune’s young men  — a fashion statement characterized by the visibility of undershorts (and sometimes more). The Mayor’s Youth Advisory Cabinet has taken a stand against the practice, and on Monday the Committee voted in favor of a resolution condemning it.

This is what they're talking about

The Committee’s action does not make the wearing of sagging pants illegal; rather, it encourages educators, parents and community leaders to “strongly discourage the practice.” Members of the public came to the microphone, mostly in support of the resolution. But two audience members said that, while they personally dislike sagging pants, they consider it an overreach for the government to try to dictate styles of dress.

The resolution states that “the origins of sagging pants comes from prison inmates being denied belts because of the risk of belts being used to commit suicide and as a sign of sexual deviant behavior within prisons.”

3.The Historic Preservation Commission is considering an application by local builder Jack Green to demolish part of the derelict house at 91 Cookman Avenue. Green and a partner bought the notoriously run-down property this summer and said they would restore it to something resembling its original condition. As a first step, Green asked the HPC on Tuesday night for permission to demolish a shed in back of the house and also a rear wall and other parts of the house itself, which Green says are structurally unsound due to water damage, rot and damage from a fire in the house’s northwest corner 11 years ago.

Fire damage inside the upstairs bedroom of 91 Cookman. Photo by Paul Goldfinger

Some HPC members had concerns because once Green demolishes the rear wall he intends to expand the house’s footprint farther into the back yard. That expansion will require a separate HPC application later on.

The Commission members asked Green to let them take a walking tour of the house, so they can see for themselves the extent of the damage. After doing that, they’ll resume consideration of Green’s application at the HPC’s next meeting, on December 13.

The 91 Cookman house dates from 1895, according to tax records. It is considered a “key structure” in the Historic District of Ocean Grove, meaning it is listed in Neptune’s Master Plan as having special architectural importance.

4. Journalism note: The Asbury Park Press has all but abandoned coverage of Neptune Township government, including Ocean Grove. Their reporter Michelle Gladden used to attend all the Township Committee meetings, and she used to write stories about the Grove from time to time, but since she was reassigned this summer, following the latest staff downsizing, no one from the APP shows up anymore. About the only Neptune stories one finds in that paper now are routine crime items.

However, the Coaster’s Don Stine is still on the Neptune beat. Every issue of that independently-owned weekly contains Neptune stories, and almost always one or more stories specific to Ocean Grove. (His piece on sagging pants is on page one this week.)

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By Charles Layton

I’m going to ask you all a question, but first I’m going to ask that you try to put yourself in the position of Marshall Koplitz.

Assume that you had a real estate business and that you owned a large, uninhabited building in Ocean Grove, specifically, the Park View Inn on Sea View Avenue, and that this building had been in a run-down state for years.

Further assume that the neighbors were so concerned about it – particularly due to the potential for fire – that 33 of them had signed a petition calling your building “an eminent danger” and urging the Township to take action. Assume that the HPC had also asked the Township to take action.

Now assume that the Township had summoned you to court and forced you to agree to rehab the building. But assume that, concurrently, the Ocean Grove Board of Fire Commissioners had ordered you to install an automatic fire alarm system. And that, for 14 months, you had been refusing to do that. And that the County Construction Board of Appeals had agreed with the fire commissioners, going so far as to state, in its official written opinion, that your building was “extremely susceptible to the rapid spread of fire” and was “a significant threat” to neighborhood residents.

Assume that since May 16 of this year, penalties had been accruing against you for failing to install that fire alarm system. Assume that as of September 8 those penalties amounted to $114,000, and you still hadn’t installed the system. And assume that since then penalties had been increasing at the rate of $1,000 for every day that you fail to install the system.

If you were Marshall Koplitz, what would you do? Photo by Charles Layton

And, finally, assume that the fire commissioners are asking the Superior Court of New Jersey to order you to pay your due penalties (which would amount to $146,000 as of this Monday, by my count) and also to install that alarm system without further delay.

Here is my question: Would you give in and install the alarm system? Or, even as the penalties mount, would you continue to fight on, possibly increasing the chances of another catastrophic fire in Ocean Grove? Possibly risking people’s lives?

This morning I telephoned Marshall Koplitz’ attorney, Michelle Lebovitz Lamar of the Sterns & Weinroch firm in Trenton, to ask about all that. “I prefer that you speak with Mr. Koplitz directly,” she said. “It’s a no comment.”

I have left a message for Mr. Koplitz at his office in Asbury Park.


For background information about this issue, go here and also here.

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By Charles Layton

Rear view of 35 Embury. Photo by Charles Layton

We have learned that one of Ocean Grove’s worst derelict buildings — the home at 35 Embury Avenue — has been purchased by a Long Branch company and that it most likely will be torn down.

The closing took place last Friday. Purchase price was said to be $205,000.

A permit would be required to demolish the property, but people both in and out of the Township government seem to agree that the building is unsafe and should be torn down.

On August 11, then-owner Beatrice Albano of Brooklyn, NY, pleaded guilty in Municipal Court to maintenance violations and agreed to correct the problems within two months. However, on August 30 Neptune Township’s Construction Department issued an unsafe structure notice for the property. Committeewoman Mary Beth Jahn said at the time that Bill Doolittle, head of Construction, did not believe the building could be saved.

The unoccupied house is quite large. According to real estate records it has 13 bedrooms and three bathrooms. It has rotted wood throughout. Huge areas lack paint and boards have pulled loose, leaving large cracks and holes for rain to enter the building.

Local attorney William Gannon told me that he had the opportunity to go on a walk-through inspection of the place a couple of months ago and “it is in very bad structural condition.” Asked what the problems are, Gannon said, “You name it.” He said the floors were so unsafe that he could not even complete his inspection.

Another person we spoke to who had been inside the place said it had been neglected for so long that pigeons and seagulls were nesting in there, with all of the filth that implies. “Horrible” was this witness’s general description.

People familiar with the sale say that the buyer intends to build a single-family home, assuming the Township gives permission for demolition of the existing building.

With this sale, 35 Embury joins two other problem buildings in Ocean Grove that seem finally to be on a path toward some kind of resolution. The derelict home at 91 Cookman Avenue was purchased in June by local developer Jack Green, who plans to renovate it. And the absentee owners of another problem building — at 80 Main Avenue — agreed earlier this month to renovate, following a lengthy legal struggle with the Township.

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Burned upstairs bedroom

By Charles Layton

Photos by Paul Goldfinger

For all the months we’ve been writing about the abandoned house at 91 Cookman Avenue, and for all the years neighbors have complained about it, we’d never gotten an inside look at the place.

Until now.

On Wednesday, the new owner, Jack R. Green III, and his son and associate in the building business, Jack Green IV, gave us a tour. Workmen had hauled out most of the debris – about two dumpster loads — so what we saw was a good deal neater than the place’s actual condition during the past decade.

Even so, what a dump!

At some point during the period of its deterioration a fire broke out on the second floor, and the damage is still apparent – blackened walls, doorways and ceilings.

Two Jacks on the porch at 91 Cookman Avenue

The house had been owned by a New York City woman who inherited it from her parents but lacked the means to maintain it. Jack Green IV purchased it on June 30 with the intention of renovating.

One of his architects, Carolyn Young, was there on Wednesday taking measurements with a tape. She and another architect, Cate Comerford, will prepare plans in the coming days. Green said his team will submit the plans to Neptune’s zoning department and then to the Historic Preservation Commission. If all of that goes well, he said he’d like to begin work by mid-December.

His hope is to have the place restored and ready to put on the market by summer. Green has considerable experience restoring old houses in Ocean Grove, and he does not seem intimidated by this one. “This is an easy one,” he told us.

According to the previous owner, the house dates back at least to 1891. It is considered a “key structure” in the Historic District of Ocean Grove, meaning it is listed in Neptune’s Master Plan as having special historical and architectural importance.

Green paid $182,000 for the property. He said it probably will cost him at least $300,000 to renovate, not including taxes and overhead. When it’s done, he will probably put it on the market for about $620,000, he said.

This house is one of a handful of deteriorated properties that have caused concern in Ocean Grove in recent years. Its renovation will constitute a rare victory in the struggle to save these crumbling old architectural gems.

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NOTE: This updates a previous article on this subject.

By Charles Layton

Municipal Court hearings are coming up soon for the owners of 35 Embury Avenue, 78 South Main Street and 24 McClintock Street in Ocean Grove.

In March, Neptune Code Enforcement cited the owner of 35 Embury, Beatrice Albano of Brooklyn, NY, for a variety of serious maintenance violations. The unoccupied house has rotted wood throughout but especially around the windows. Huge areas lack paint, and boards have pulled loose, leaving large cracks and holes for rain to enter the building.

The Township issued a summons in May, and Albano is due in court on Thursday to enter a plea.

The house at 24 McClintock, also unoccupied, has been in violation of maintenance laws for years. Problems have included rotting wood, broken windows, broken shingles and damaged porch rails. In September of 2009 Code Enforcement issued a summons to the owner, Jason Richelson of Brooklyn, but the case became mired in bureaucratic red tape and seemed to have been forgotten until July of 2010, when the Historic Preservation Commission complained to Code Enforcement about the house.

The house at 78 South Main is, by all outward appearances, a shambles. In March of this year Code Enforcement ordered the owner, Eve Annenberg of New York City, to “make all necessary repairs” to bring the building up to code requirements. That has not been done.

Richelson and Annenberg are to appear for a hearing in Municipal Court on June 23.

Richelson, Annenberg and Albano are the latest in a string of owners called into court in recent months over long-standing maintenance problems with unoccupied buildings in Ocean Grove. Others are the owners of 80 Main Avenue, 23 Seaview Avenue (the Park View Inn), 14 Spray Avenue and 96 Lawrence Avenue.

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By Charles Layton

We continue to receive comments about the “Demolition by Neglect” ordinance and questions about whether it is working and, if not, why not.

But before addressing that, some background:

Last July, the Historic Preservation Commission asked the Township to investigate four unoccupied and run-down Ocean Grove properties — 91 Cookman Avenue, 24 McClintock Street, 80 Main Avenue and 23 Seaview Avenue — to find out whether, in effect, they were being demolished through their owners’ neglect. If they are, it’s a violation of the law.

Upon receiving such a request from the HPC, according to the Demolition by Neglect ordinance, the Department of Code Enforcement is supposed to contact the owner and arrange for an immediate inspection. Code is then supposed to report the results of that inspection back to the HPC. If the inspection confirms that demolition by neglect is taking place (the law contains a definition of this) the HPC then orders the owners to correct the defects.

Code did not follow that procedure. It did inspect the buildings, and it found major problems, but it did not really make a determination as to whether the properties were, in fact, being demolished through owner neglect. Nor did it give the HPC a report or keep it informed by other means. For many months, people at the HPC have seemed not to know what is happening. Instead, Code followed its normal procedure under the property maintenance laws: it cited the owners for violations and, when the violations were not corrected, it issued summonses and proceeded against the owners in court. Those cases are still in court; to its credit, the Township is pressing forward with most of them.

At the last Township Committee meeting, Kathy Arlt of Ocean Grove asked the Committee why the Demolition by Neglect ordinance was not followed. Township Attorney Gene Anthony told her that the enforcement officer – Bill Doolittle, director of construction and code enforcement – had discretion under the ordinance to follow either the Demolition by Neglect procedures or those of the property maintenance laws. Doolittle’s power of discretion stems from a sentence in the Demolition by Neglect ordinance which states: “Nothing herein shall restrict or otherwise prohibit the Construction Official [Doolittle] from acting in accordance with applicable state regulations, building codes or municipal building codes.” (This language is not crystal clear.)

Committeewoman Mary Beth Jahn told Arlt that the problem with going the Demolition by Neglect route is that the HPC has no enforcement power, whereas Code Enforcement does: it can issue summonses. Yet the Demolition by Neglect ordinance gives the HPC the power to “direct the issuance of a … summons” to a non-responsive owner. That seems like enforcement power.

Another section of the ordinance says that if an owner fails to make repairs as ordered, the HPC may request the Township to undertake those repairs and then to place a lien on the property to recoup its costs. This also seems like a useful enforcement tool. When the Township places a lien, it then turns around and auctions off the lien to a third party, so it gets its money right back. One or two Ocean Grovers, commenting on this blog, have suggested doing that very thing with some of our derelict properties.

But the truth is, the HPC seems now to have lost its appetite for proceeding under Demolition by Neglect. The Township Committee also seems more comfortable with having Bill Doolittle call the shots. In the end, our concerns about which procedures to follow won’t matter much if the Township, one way or the other, succeeds in solving the problem of derelict houses in Ocean Grove. And we really hope it does succeed.


UPDATE: At the end of Tuesday evening’s meeting of the Historic Preservation Commission, a wide-ranging discussion broke out about the Demolition by Neglect ordinance. Kathy Arlt of Ocean Grove described her efforts to get the Township to take the ordinance seriously. Members of the Commission made it pretty clear that, as a way to save derelict buildings, they consider the ordinance pretty near useless. Commission member Cathleen Crandall said such ordinances are “almost impossible to enforce.” The HPC’s chairwoman, Deborah Osepchuk, said it is almost impossible to inspect a house if the owner refuses access to the inspector, which commonly happens. Inspections, of course, are an essential part of what the ordinance is all about.

It was a painful conversation to listen to.

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Carol Weisz, owner of the controversial derelict property at 91 Cookman Avenue, went before the Historic Preservation Commission last night seeking approval for exterior repairs. Kathy Arlt of Ocean Grove attended the meeting as a citizen reporter for Blogfinger, and filed this report.

By Kathy Arlt

Carol Weisz basically resubmitted the same application she had made in 2007. It included second-story porch replacement, railing and column replacements on both the bottom and second-floor porches, window replacements, new roof, new back staircase, new doors, trim repair/replacement and painting.

That application was approved in July of 2007, but no work was done because Ms. Weisz reported that she had financial difficulties.

Because the house is a “key structure,” which means it is of special historic and architectural significance, the standard for repairs is exact replacement of architectural elements, and Ms. Weisz was told that many of the proposed samples she supplied were incorrect and that others will probably require custom woodwork to duplicate.

She promised to start the repair work as soon as her application is approved.

While Weisz seeks to meet the requirements of the HPC, she remains in a parallel struggle with Neptune Township’s Code Enforcement Department. Last year Weisz received citations for problems that included rotted wood and unsound porches and other structural features. A Municipal Court judge dismissed the case on January 20, but Code Enforcement has since refiled that case.

The house has been uninhabited for some 11 years and has been a source of continuing complaint from neighbors. It is one of four uninhabited run-down buildings in Ocean Grove that has attracted the special concern of the HPC, which hopes to see those structures repaired and saved because of their historic importance.

Weisz lives in New York City, where she works as a teacher.

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William Doolittle (right) addressing the Home Owners Association. Committeeman Randy Bishop looks on. Photo by Mary Walton

By Charles Layton

Saturday, February 26 — Today’s meeting of the Ocean Grove Home Owners Association featured a wide-ranging discussion of derelict buildings — how the Township addresses the problem, why it takes so long to get results, and how citizens can help.

The guest speaker, William Doolittle, said when he became Neptune’s director of Code and Construction two years ago, he compiled a list of more than 40 deteriorating structures needing immediate attention. (Around City Hall, it’s known as “the ugly list.”)

“We’ve gotten rid of about half of those structures,” he said, either by demolishing them or forcing the owners to make repairs. The only such building to be demolished in Ocean Grove, he said, was the Sampler Inn in 2009.

Because of budget cuts, Doolittle’s staff of six building inspectors was reduced to three last year, and the number of secretaries in Code Enforcement was cut from two to one. Doolittle told me before the meeting that he didn’t expect these staff cuts to reduce the number of inspections his department conducts for code violations. However, Doolittle and Committeeman Randy Bishop, today’s other guest speaker, said the loss of staff may make Neptune more dependent on citizens’ tips.

“We count on you guys greatly for your eyes and your ears, to let us know what’s going on out there,” Doolittle told the group. When one member of the audience said it is sometimes difficult for citizens to know what constitutes a code violation, Bishop said, “If it looks bad enough to you, report a violation.”

Doolittle said it’s helpful if the person reporting the problem can provide photos. He said the identities of persons reporting on their neighbors’ properties will be kept confidential.

Both officials spoke of the time-consuming nature of the Township’s efforts to force an owner to save a deteriorating building.

Audience member Kathy Arlt spoke for many when she asked why the Township seems to allow buildings to reach an extreme state of disrepair before taking serious action. “Why aren’t violations being written earlier?” she asked.

Neither Bishop nor Doolittle quite came to grips with that question, but Doolittle did try to explain some of the procedural barriers to quick action against a derelict building owner. Sometimes, he said, the owner is deceased, or the building is owned by a corporation and it is hard to determine who is the responsible person. Sometimes an owner escapes into bankruptcy. He also spoke of stalling tactics used by some recalcitrant owners. For instance, owners will give his department evidence that they have ordered materials to make repairs, or claim they are in the process of filing a repair proposal with the HPC, in order to get a delay in enforcement; then they will fail to follow through with those plans.

Bringing an owner to court, with all of the legal impediments involved, can take as long as a year, he said, and then after the Township does obtain a court order, the owner can appeal.

“So you can see the frustrations,” Doolittle said. “It may seem like we’re sitting on our hands, but that’s not the case.”

Bishop said the law provides elaborate protections of a property owner’s rights. “That’s how the system works,” he said. In extreme situations, the Township Committee has taken control of an unsafe building in order to have it demolished, Bishop said, but “it’s not something the governing body does frivolously.”


Several reports by HOA officials followed the main speakers. Barbara Burns reported that the organization hopes to have a new website up and running by the end of March. She showed screen projections of what some of the site’s pages will look like. The site will allow people to send questions to the HOA. People will also be able to sign up to receive email notices of meetings and other information, she said, and the minutes of meetings will be published

Ann Horan, the HOA treasurer, said annual membership dues will be increased this year from $8 to $10. This is because the organization’s expenses are starting to exceed its income. The HOA has been losing members, she explained.

Joan Caputo, newly appointed as a trustee, will head a membership committee that will seek to recruit new members.

Joan Venezia heads a new six-member committee on the North End Redevelopment. The committee, she said, will be seeking ideas on how to make the project “more favorable to the residents” of Ocean Grove. Anyone wishing to pass along a suggestion, idea or concern to this committee can send an email to OGNorthEnd@gmail.com.

Eventually, the committee will bring a set of recommendations before the membership. Once approved, those will be passed on to the Township officials who are negotiating the project’s details with the developers.

And finally, Kennedy Buckley, an HOA trustee, is collecting suggestions for improving Ocean Grove’s parking situation. Anyone with an idea to share can email Buckley at poppop.12@verizon.net.

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