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Posts Tagged ‘derelict buildings in Ocean Grove’

By Charles Layton

After refusing for 17 months to install a fire alarm system in his boarded-up hotel, the Park View Inn, Marshall Koplitz has finally agreed, under considerable legal pressure, to do so.

Neighbors living near the 23 Seaview Avenue property had complained for years that it was a fire hazard. In August of 2010, the Ocean Grove fire inspector discovered that the building’s automatic fire alarm system had been removed. When Koplitz refused orders to replace the missing alarm system, the Board of Fire Commissioners issued violations, began levying fines of $1,000 per day and, last September, took their case to Superior Court.

On Wednesday, Koplitz’ lawyer informed the Township that he would install the alarm system.

In a letter dated February 14, the lawyer, Michelle Lebovitz Lamar, informed Township Attorney Gene Anthony that Koplitz had arranged to have electric service reintroduced into the building, and that once that is done “The automatic fire alarm system should be operational by the end of the week.” That letter was in response to an inquiry from Anthony at the request of Committeewoman Mary Beth Jahn.

In arguments last February before the County Construction Board of Appeals, Koplitz’ attorney had argued that the building was not in danger of catching fire because the interior had been gutted and debris cleared from the floors. The Board of Appeals disagreed, stating in its written opinion that the building was “extremely susceptible to the rapid spread of fire” which would be “a significant threat of harm to neighboring structures and occupants.”

When Koplitz still refused to install the alarm system, the Fire Commissioners appealed in Superior Court. Meanwhile, the Commissioners continued to levy fines of $1,000 per day for every day Koplitz remained out of compliance. At that rate, by Blogfinger’s unofficial count, those accumulated fines would total $265,000 as of Wednesday of this week.

There was no immediate word from the Fire Commissioners as to whether they intend to ask the Superior Court to order Koplitz to pay any or all of those outstanding fines.

“This is good news,” said Ted Bell, when informed about the letter to Anthony. Bell was one of the area residents who collected 33 signatures on a petition in July, 2010, urging the Township to take action against Koplitz. “Where will the alarm monitoring system be located? The Ocean Grove firemen and the Neptune construction officials should have some input on this — it should be monitored 24 hours per day, seven days a week.”

For more on the alarm system issue, go here.

Marshall Koplitz at HPC meeting, December 13, 2011. Photo by Charles Layton

Koplitz and his brother and business associate, Elliott Koplitz, have allowed the Park View to deteriorate for many years. However, since July 28 they have been under a Municipal Court plea agreement with the Township to restore the building as a 31-room hotel. The Historic Preservation Commission has approved plans for the restoration. For background on that issue, go here and also here and here.

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69 Webb Avenue. Paul Goldfinger photo

By Charles Layton

We’ve found another derelict house in Ocean Grove, and it’s a bit of a mystery.

Some Ocean Grovers have been concerned about 69 Webb Avenue for months, but on Wednesday we got confirmation that Neptune Township’s Department of Code Enforcement also considers it a problem.

“It has multiple violations open from April,” said Committeewoman Mary Beth Jahn, who looked into the status of the house following an inquiry from Blogfinger.

“The reason these violations are still open is that we cannot locate the owner. The tax bills go right to the property, the address for the owner that we had in Jackson Township is no good, and though there is a mortgage on the building, we are trying to track down who is servicing it, which no one seems to know. And because no one knows, we are still searching for the owner.”

Until the Township finds the owner, it can’t issue an order to correct the violations.

According to Monmouth County’s online property records, Charles Jackson purchased the house from John and Victoria Fallon on March 3, 2007 for a price of $700,000.

The house is listed in the Township’s Master Plan as having “architectural and historic importance.” In other words, it is what the Historic Preservation Commission would consider to be a “key structure” in the Ocean Grove Historic District — that is to say, a house that it would be important to save from deterioration.

The deed says it was built in 1890.

Update, Jan. 5: Monmouth County records also show that the owner, Jackson, had fallen behind on his mortgage payments in 2009, and the lender filed notice in Superior Court of intent to foreclose. From what little appears in this one-page court document, dated November 16, 2009, it seems that the problem of ownership could be highly complicated. The plaintiff is listed as “Deutsche Bank National Trust Company, as Trustee of the IndyMac INDA Mortgage Loan Trust,” and refers to a “pooling and servicing agreement dated August 1, 2006.” This could indicate that the original mortgage on 69 Webb ended up in a pool with other mortgages. Or even that it was subsumed into one of those subprime loan derivative products. But that is speculation on my part.

The court notice states that legal action is pending, the object of which is “to foreclose the mortgage made by Charles Jackson to Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc., as nominee for IndyMac Bank, FSB dated 03/29/2006.” It says the mortgage was subsequently assigned to the plaintiff, i.e., Deutsche Bank National Trust.

We do not yet know whether foreclosure proceeded any further than this notice, but when we find out we’ll let you know. — CL

East side of 69 Webb Avenue. Charles Layton photo.

West side of 69 Webb Avenue. PG photo

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Editor’s note: Once in a while, Blogfinger will post an update on all those derelict buildings of greatest concern to Ocean Grovers. We hope this makes it easier for our readers to see the entire playing field and evaluate overall progress.

By Charles Layton

35 Embury Avenue – This major eyesore and menace to society was torn down on Thursday afternoon (December 29)  — a milestone in the fight against blight in the Grove. A builder, Mike Wilson of Little Silver, purchased the property in September after the Township declared it to be uninhabitable. He has said he plans to either build a new house in its place or sell the lot to someone else who wants to build there.

Front door, 80 Main. Photo by Charles Layton

80 Main Avenue – On February 24 the owners of this once-handsome but now long-neglected property agreed to make repairs under a plea agreement with the Township. On September 8 the agreement was amended in court to give the owners more time. Their attorney, William Gannon of Ocean Grove, says the new plan is for a total renovation, converting the property from commercial use (it was once a doctor’s office) to a single-family home. He has predicted that the work, by Gannon Building & Remodeling, could be completed sometime this spring.

23 Sea View Avenue (The Park View Inn) – The owners, Elliott and Marshall Koplitz, are under a court order to restore this old, unoccupied building as a 31-room hotel with a dining room/banquet hall. On December 13 the Historic Preservation Commission approved plans presented by Marshall Koplitz and his architect. However, although Koplitz has so far lived up to the July 28 court order, which was part of a plea agreement in Municipal Court, doubts remain as to his ability to carry through. People both in and out of government wonder whether he will be able to get bank financing. A complicating factor is that Koplitz is contesting a court action having to do with ongoing fire violations on the property. He owes approximately $200,000 in unpaid fines in connection with this matter. (For background on all of this, go here  and here and also here.)

24 McClintock Street – The survival of this building is in doubt. The Township has tried giving the out-of-state owner a citation, has had the Municipal Court impose a fine, and has struck a rather generous plea bargain, but none of this has resulted in even modest repairs. The owner, Jason Richelson, recently hired a local lawyer, Jennifer Krimko, to negotiate in his behalf. The Township is expected to go back to court on January 12 and ask the judge to levy another fine. Krimko says the house will be repaired in the early months of 2012. However, the neighbors’ patience with the owner’s excuses and delays is wearing thin after years of inaction, and some Township officials are starting to wonder if their only practical recourse is to condemn the building and have it demolished.  (For more info, go here.)

91 Cookman Avenue – Ocean Grove builder Jack Green purchased this badly-deteriorated house last summer and said he intended to restore it to something resembling its original condition. It is a “key structure,” which means the Historic Preservation Commission considers it to have special architectural and historical significance. At a November 29 meeting, the HPC raised questions about Green’s restoration plan because of the degree to which he proposed to expand the house’s original footprint. Green says he’ll soon submit a new plan that conforms more closely to the HPC’s wishes.

78 Main Street – The New York City owner has pleaded guilty to code violations and has been fined on two occasions. On October 27 her attorney told Municipal Court Judge Robin Wernik that she had been undergoing chemo treatments for cancer and had been distracted. The Township nevertheless wants to hold her to her commitments under a June 23 plea agreement.

Note: Our previous update on these buildings was published on September 19, 2011. Anyone wishing to read that, go here.

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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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Marshall Koplitz walking to his car after court appearance. “No comment, no comment, no comment.”

Story and photos by Charles Layton

After years of ignoring neighbors’ complaints and defying citations by Neptune Code Enforcement, years of bitter haggling with Township officials and months of delays in the face of a court order, Marshall Koplitz signed an agreement on Thursday that commits him to restore the Park View Inn as a hotel with kitchen and banquet facilities.

In exchange, the Township agreed to settle outstanding legal issues regarding the Park View, including complaints and fines.

The Park View, at 23 Sea View Avenue in Ocean Grove, is owned by Koplitz and his brother Elliott Koplitz under the corporate name 23 Seaview Holdings, LLC, based in Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

The consent order, approved by Municipal Court Judge Robin Wernik, requires the owners to undertake the building’s renovation in five phases. Failure to comply at any point would trigger a fine of at least $35,000.

Phase one is to prepare architectural plans for a hotel with 31 guest rooms, a commercial kitchen and a dining room/banquet hall. These must be submitted to the Township zoning officer and to the Historic Preservation Commission for approval. Applying for bank financing is also required as part of this phase.

Phase two requires an application, complete with plans, to the Township Construction Department.

Phases three and four deal with satisfying various legal conditions, submission of mechanical drawings and the commencement of construction.

Phase five sets time limits for completion of the work. It requires the owners to obtain a certificate of occupancy within 12 to 18 months after the issuance of construction permits.

Bill Doolittle, Neptune’s director of code and enforcement, said the agreement is “effective today,” meaning Thursday. He said the court will affix its official stamp on Monday and the order will then be submitted to the county.

The Township’s struggle to force Koplitz to maintain the Park View in accordance with the law dates at least as far back as 2007, when the Township first took him to court over code violations. Neighbors signed a petition in June of last year urging that something be done; the petition stated that the Park View appeared to have been abandoned “for the past six years” and was in such poor condition that it could “become a fire problem.”

On March 24 of this year, Judge Wernik ordered Marshall Koplitz to reach an agreement with the Township over the long list of outstanding code violations. Negotiations dragged on interminably, punctuated by defiant and profane outbursts from Koplitz.

However, following their appearance in court on Thursday and the signing of the consent order, Koplitz and his attorney, Michelle Lamar, were seen laughing and conversing amicably with Doolittle and Township Attorney Gene Anthony in the corridor outside the courtroom.

Koplitz accompanied Lamar to her car in the parking lot, held a brief conversation there and then began walking across the lot to his own car. When I sought to interview him, Koplitz turned his head and walked determinedly away, repeating the words “no comment” like a chant.

One issue not addressed in the consent order is the matter of unpaid taxes. The Township’s tax office told me this week that the Park View carries a lien of more than $63,000 due to unpaid taxes. Anthony said today that the restoration required by the consent order “provides for private financing which may allow [Koplitz] to pay off the taxes.”

Another unsettled question, of course, is how difficult it might be for Koplitz to obtain such financing. If he cannot, then it is hard to see how the terms of the agreement could be met.

The Park View has been dilapidated for years. But if Thursday’s consent order is followed in all its details, it could be restored. Photo by Charles Layton

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On Thursday, at 2 p.m., Beatrice Albano, owner of the house at 35 Embury Avenue, had been ordered to appear in Municipal Court for failing to correct a list of maintenance violations. Albano, who lives in Brooklyn, NY, didn’t show. Township Attorney Gene Anthony wanted Judge Robin Wernik to issue a warrant for Albano’s arrest, but Judge Wernik decided to set another court date and give the defendant another chance to appear. Anthony contended that this was the second time this defendant had failed to answer a summons regarding this property. Wernik said it was only the first time.

A Township inspector has found Albano’s unoccupied property to be replete with wood rot, lack of paint and broken and missing siding, among other problems. A couple of neighbors have told Blogfinger they think the building may be beyond saving. It is in a prime location, in the second block from the ocean.

— Charles Layton

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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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