Posts Tagged ‘Manchester Inn’

This is a rendering of two homes developer Hans Kretschman proposes on the Manchester Inn site. He says they'll replicate earlier structures predating the Manchester.

By Charles Layton

On Wednesday night the Neptune Zoning Board approved, with only two small changes, Hans Kretschman’s proposal to build two new single-family homes where the Manchester Inn once stood on Ocean Pathway.

Kretschman’s project had been the object of considerable controversy, and a stream of Ocean Grovers came to the microphone to voice their opposition. Nevertheless, the Board members embraced the ambitious plan, which proposes to copy two turn-of-the-century buildings that existed on the site before they were subsumed, in the 1920s, into the larger building that became the Manchester.

The new buildings are to be built on two of three lots that comprised the Manchester — 25 Ocean Pathway and 27 Ocean Pathway. Kretschman also owns the third lot, which faces Bath Avenue, but he has not yet revealed his plans for that.

He went before the board seeking variances to three of Neptune’s zoning rules that apply to the area — a 35-foot limitation on height, a rule limiting single-family homes to two and a half stories, and a rule regarding Ocean Grove’s famous “flared setback” in the first two blocks of Ocean Pathway. At the start of the meeting Kretschman’s attorney, Jennifer Krimko, agreed to lower the height of one of the buildings by a foot, to bring it within the 35-foot limit. She also made a slight concession on the flared setback by agreeing to pull the porch of one of the buildings out of the setback area. But the front stairs of both buildings will continue to protrude into the setback area — one by 1.81 feet and the other by 3.65 feet, according to Kretschman’s architect, Joseph Walker.

The board approved the remaining variances, allowing the encroachment of the stairs, allowing the houses to have three and a half stories, and allowing the house at 25 Ocean Pathway to exceed the height limit by 3 feet and 4 inches.

Kretschman’s witnesses, including two architects and a professional planner, had testified that the reconstruction of the two original buildings would be extraordinarily precise, based on extensive photographic and physical evidence. They argued that the benefits of such a faithful replication far outweighed any detriments due to the departures from the zoning rules; those departures were necessary, they said, for the sake of historical fidelity.

Numerous large photographs of the proposed homes were displayed about the room during the hearing. Kretschman, who obviously takes pride in the quality and beauty of these proposed creations, told me he could not understand why members of the public had been so negative in their reactions.

But after the testimony of Kretschman’s experts, when the floor was opened to public comments, the great preponderance of expressed opinion remained critical.

The fact that the Manchester and five homes surrounding it had been destroyed in a tremendous fire last year lent to the discussion a special poignancy. Martha Derrico told the board that she had “lost everything” in last year’s fire, which destroyed her house at 30 Bath Avenue. She said she had observed all the zoning requirements in rebuilding her home, and although Kretschman’s proposed homes were “very lovely…I just don’t understand why they can’t be cut down to fit the zoning requirements.”

Deb Marini, who also lost her home at 23 Ocean Pathway to the fire, lamented the fact that when she and her husband wanted to rebuild to three stories the Zoning Board turned them down. “My issue I guess is more with consistency,” she said. “We lost our home twice. We lost it once to the fire. We lost it again to this board.”

Several residents decried what they considered to be a trend toward more and more massive structures on Ocean Pathway and elsewhere in the Grove.

However, when it came time for board members to vote, the mood changed completely. Board member James Gilligan said, “I can’t see any way that this application could be turned down.” The board’s chairwoman, Robin Price, said, “I think this will be an added benefit to the street scape.” Joe Sears said Kretschman’s plans were “a great improvement” over the Manchester. “This is so lovely,” he said.

The board approved the plan by a vote of seven to one, Barbara Burns being the lone dissenter.

The Manchester Inn (above) evolved from two older buildings. Now that the Manchester is gone, the plan is to copy, as nearly as possible, those two buildings.

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By Charles Layton

This evening (Wednesday, August 3), Neptune’s Zoning Board of Adjustment will hear further testimony on a builder’s proposal to encroach on Ocean Grove’s famous “flared setback” along Ocean Pathway. So far, the board has only heard one side of this argument – the builder’s side. Given the issue’s importance, the board should hear fuller evidence and alternative points of view.

The flared setback was designed by Ocean Grove’s founders. Under their plan, each house along Ocean Pathway and other east-to-west streets was set back in lines that widen toward the ocean from Central Avenue to Ocean Avenue. The purpose was to provide ocean views and sea breezes for homes up to two blocks inland along these avenues. It is a good neighbor policy, preventing one home owner from depriving others of some of the benefits of seaside living. On a Google satellite photo (for which, click here and type in “ocean grove”) one can see the pattern clearly along Main, Heck, Embury and other avenues, but especially along Ocean Pathway.

“Ocean Grove appears to be the earliest user of this device. Taken within the context of urban planning, Ocean Grove is significant not only on a national scale, but on a world scale as well.” Those words are from Ocean Grove’s nomination form submitted to the Department of the Interior when the town was seeking to become a National Historic District. The flared setback was one of the primary justifications for our national historic status.

The Historic Preservation Commission’s guidelines, as expressed in a Township ordinance, say this: “The ‘flare’ must be preserved. Where applicable, proposed improvements shall NOT infringe upon the delineated ‘Flare’ and its historic importance to the Historic District of Ocean Grove.” (The boldface and underline are part of the document, emphasizing the point.)

The setback was observed and enforced rather strictly during Ocean Grove’s so-called period of historical significance – from its founding in 1869 to about 1910. Some time after that, and into the 1970s, some people disregarded the rules and put porches, stairways and additions out into the flare. After 1975, however, when the Grove became a historic district, the flared setback began to be enforced more seriously for new buildings and additions. Indeed, many argue that failure to protect this setback could at some point endanger the town’s national historic designation.

Which brings us to the issue now before the Zoning Board. Local builder Hans Kretschman is proposing to build two houses on the lots where the Manchester Inn stood before its destruction in last year’s fire. Kretschman is seeking a variance to the setback rule on the grounds that these houses will replicate two buildings that had stood on those lots prior to 1910. He argues that the historic buildings he intends to replicate encroached into the flared setback, so his buildings should be allowed to do that also.  (Go here to read our previous article, containing a fuller account of his argument.)

The claim that those original buildings violated the setback is questionable, however. In fact, according to Sanborn Maps from the 1905-1910 period, the structures that stood on the Manchester site appear to have observed the flared setback rule. Mr. Kretschman’s attorney has not submitted those maps into evidence, nor have they been mentioned in testimony, although they are considered the most authoritative record of the building footprints of the time. (They were originally created for assessing fire insurance liability – serious business.)

Later, apparently in the 1920s, the single building that replaced and subsumed the two earlier ones – and which became the modern Manchester Inn – did have a porch that encroached into the setback. But that came after, not during, the period of  historical significance. It is therefore hard to see how one could justify having a new building encroach into the setback by arguing that doing so would respect the site’s historical integrity.

At best, the history of the Manchester property is unclear based on evidence submitted to the Zoning Board thus far. So, rather than making a decision and setting a precedent based on one side of an argument, one would hope that the board would take its time and investigate all available evidence, including the Sanborn maps. On a matter of such importance – not just to Kretschman but to the whole town – it would be foolish to rush.


NOTE: The above-referenced meeting was held on Wednesday evening. For a report on the outcome, click here.

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NOTE: This story was updated on Monday to include comments from the property owner, Hans Kretschman.

By Charles Layton

This week, the Zoning Board of Adjustment is to consider — and probably vote on — the controversial question of what size houses should be built on the site of the late Manchester Inn.

The Manchester, as everyone knows, was destroyed by fire in March of 2010 along with five adjacent houses. At the time, local developer Hans Kretschman had an agreement to buy the place and convert it from a hotel/restaurant into a 14-unit condominium facility. But after the fire, the property’s zoning status reverted to single-family, so it was back to the drawing board.

Now, Kretschman proposes to build two single-family houses on the portion of the Manchester property that faces Ocean Pathway. (The Manchester also included a rear lot facing Bath Avenue.) However, Kretschman’s plan requires zoning variances because it violates the existing standards regarding height and the number of stories permitted, and because it would encroach into Ocean Pathway’s flared setback area. (The “flared setback,” which widens toward the ocean from Central Avenue to Ocean Avenue, is one of the unique original features of Ocean Grove’s town plan. Preservationists consider it sacrosanct.)

The Zoning Board began hearing Kretschman’s case on July 20 and is scheduled to continue the hearing on Wednesday. At the July 20 hearing, Kretschman’s attorney, Jennifer Krimko, called two architects to testify in favor of his building plans. One, Michael Calafati, a specialist in historic buildings, used old photographs in support of the argument that Kretschman’s plans were actually consonant with the architectural heritage along that particular street. Calafati said the plans were intended to reconstruct two buildings that had stood on the site at the turn of the century, which was before the Manchester existed and before Ocean Grove became a national historic district.

Krimko told the Board that she also intends to call a planner who will testify that Kretschman’s plans would preserve the architectural integrity of the area better than if he were forced to follow present zoning rules.

Several Grovers raised questions during the public portion of the hearing. Madeline Tugentman of 31 Ocean Pathway asked why Kretschman could not conform to the flared setback. She and her husband, Steven, lost their home in the Manchester fire, and when they rebuilt, she said, “we followed the rules.” Norm Goldman told the board, “This proposal is not in concert with the appearance of that entire block,” meaning that the two proposed houses would have one story more than others on that side of the street.

Another architect, Joseph Walker, testified that there was historic precedent for taller buildings on the opposite (south) side of Ocean Pathway. He cited five buildings that were destroyed by fire in 1977. “All those buildings were at least four stories — four or five stories,” Walker said.

The properties in question — two adjacent lots — are zoned for 2 1/2 stories and with a height limitation of 35 feet. Both of Kretschman’s proposed houses would have 3 1/2 stories. The one at 27 Ocean Pathway would be 38 feet 4 inches high; the other one, at 25 Ocean Pathway, would be 35 feet 11 1/2 inches high.

Earlier this year the Zoning Board rejected a proposal by Marc and Deb Marini for similar variances on their property next door to Kretschman’s lots. After losing their home at 23 Ocean Pathway in last year’s fire, the Marinis had also sought to rebuild to 3 1/2 stories. They expressed sharp disappointment when the Board refused their request for a variance.

Kretschman and his company, PH Distinctive Properties, have emerged as major players in Ocean Grove real estate in recent years. He purchased the Laingdon Hotel at 8 Ocean Avenue in 2001 and converted it to a luxury hotel. He purchased the Silver Sands Hotel at 6 Ocean in 2003 and made it his private residence. And he had just purchased the uninhabited old hotel at 27 Surf Avenue and was in the process of converting it to condos when it burned down in March of this year along with seven adjacent homes.

In an interview on Monday, Kretschman said he saw “a huge difference” between his application for variances and “other new home applications that were recently presented to the Zoning Board. We are reconstructing the images of two historic buildings that stood on that site at the turn of the century, which are within the Ocean Grove historic district’s period of significance.”

Kretschman said the structure that became the Manchester Inn had incorporated those two original separate buildings. “What we’re doing is putting back what was there over 100 years ago,” he said. The evidence for what was originally on the site  includes hundreds of photos of the interior and exterior, he said.

As to encroaching into the flared setback area, he said, “We hope to have that resolved on Wednesday.” He did not elaborate except to say that the original buildings that had stood on the site had also encroached into the setback area.

25 and 27 Ocean Pathway, looking northwest. Photo by Charles Layton

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Photo by Ed Wyzykowski

What’s pictured above is not what happened in Ocean Grove on Friday. It’s what happened exactly one year ago — March 13, 2010 — on Bath Avenue and Ocean Pathway. Today, at the site of that earlier but equally devastating fire, new houses are rising. The following story describes what is there already and what is soon to come.

By Mary Walton and Charles Layton

One year after a pre-dawn fire on Ocean Pathway destroyed the Manchester Inn and five homes, and severely damaged two others, the future of the site is taking shape. Three new homes are already rising from the ashes and plans for a fourth await approval by the Zoning Board of Adjustment. The fate of the fifth home remains uncertain. One of the two damaged homes has been restored and work on the other is almost complete. In addition, three single family homes are slated to replace the Manchester.

This picture, taken early this month, shows (at right) the Rasmussen home on Bath Avenue all framed out. Behind it, the new Derrico home is nearly done. The Tugentman home is on the left. The hole in the ground is where a leaking oil tank was removed. Photo by Mary Walton

The first family to move back was Marc and Deb Marini and their three children, who lived at 23 Ocean Pathway. On the morning of the fire, Marc Marini was awakened by a noise. When Deb got up to check on the kids, she smelled smoke. By then the flames from the Manchester were lighting up the sky outside their window.  It was 5:01 a.m. The couple roused the children and three house guests, and Deb called 911.  Theirs was the first house to catch fire, at 5:13. At 5:20 it was gone.

“We were the only family to lose two houses,” Deb Marini said in an interview. They also owned the severely damaged house at 24 Bath, directly behind their Ocean Pathway home.  In less than four months, they renovated it and moved in, then began making plans to rebuild on the Pathway.

As with a death, Deb said, her recovery moved through stages.  “At first you’re in a euphoric stage because everybody made it out.” Then came anger as the magnitude of the loss sank in.  The Marinis had just finished a renovation of their Pathway home in time for the Christmas 2009 house tour.  “We had literally hung the last curtain,” said Deb. Now everything was gone. When her son Nicholas, 11, started fifth grade in September, he was asked to bring in a baby photo. “We didn’t have it.” Moreover, in 2007 they had gone through another devastating fire when the fireplace in their previous home in West Windsor malfunctioned. Said Deb, “You think, ‘Why me?  Lord, what are you trying to tell me?’ ” After four or five months, she said, you accept reality and move on.

Their temporary home at 24 Bath has just three bedrooms. That meant that their older daughter Sarah, 17, a senior in high school, would occupy a room with Rachel, 16. But Rachel and Nicholas were upset that their older sister would not have her own room for her final year before going off to college. The pair took a vote. They agreed to share a room.

The morning after the fire Sarah was scheduled to take the SATs. It would be, she thought, the most important day to date in her academic life. She ended up writing a moving essay as part of her college application, about how the day turned out to be important for a different reason.

The Marinis have yet to break ground on Ocean Pathway. Their house, like all the others, will be narrower than before because a new regulation requires more space between structures. To compensate for lost footage, Deb said, they are seeking a zoning variance to top their home with a full third story rather than the two-and-a-half stories permitted by law. The application is scheduled for a hearing March 16.


Prior to the fire, Hans Kretschman, owner of the Laingdon Hotel, had concluded an agreement to purchase the Manchester Inn from owners Clark and Margaret Cate and was seeking a controversial variance to build 14 condos. The assessed value of the property before the fire was $1,213,000. Last September Kretschman bought the property for $484,749, according to county records. He has since filed papers with Neptune Township subdividing the property into three lots. Kretschman did not respond to phone messages but a family member at the Laingdon Hotel confirmed that he no longer intends to try to build condos there, only three single family homes.

Kretschman’s company, PH Distinctive Properties, is leaving its footprint on Ocean Grove. According to county records, he purchased the Laingdon at 8 Ocean Avenue in 2001 for $985,000 and subsequently converted it to a luxury hotel. In 2008 he paid $695,000 for 4 Atlantic Avenue, gutted and renovated it, and sold it last year for $1,135,250. In 2003, according to records, he purchased the Silver Sands Hotel at 6 Ocean for $1,050,000 and made it his private residence. He had also recently bought the old hotel at 27 Surf Avenue from Heinz Weck and was converting it to nine condos when it burned on Friday along with seven adjacent homes.

As for Clark and Margaret Cate, they are no longer in the hotel business. Clark started work in November as marketing director of the Jersey Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau, promoting Monmouth and Ocean counties. “Even though I don’t have a business here,” Clark says, “I want people to come and enjoy the area.”


A question mark hangs over 29 Ocean Pathway, which is marked by a huge hole where an oil tank was found to be leaking last May and had to be removed. The owner, Regina Stewart, who lives in Manhattan and owns an art gallery there, did not respond to telephone messages asking about her plans.

Among the three properties under construction, the 30 Bath Avenue home belonging to long-time Grovers Martha and Joseph Derrico, who are wintering in Florida, is farthest along.  Martha said they hope to move in by May. At 12 feet in width, the new house is a foot narrower than the already skinny Derrico home that perished. That house was white. The new one will be green with burgundy trim. “Something a little different,” Martha said.

Houses belonging to Scott and Laura Rasmussen at 28 Bath and to Steven and Madeline Tugentman at 31 Ocean Pathway are also under construction. The Tugentmans, who live in Maplewood, fell in love with Ocean Grove several years ago when they won a weekend at a bed and breakfast in town. They bought their two-story home in 2009 and spent a summer there before the fire struck.  “My heart was broken,” Madeline said. “It was such a sweet little house.  It was like a piece of history was lost.” Their new house will have an additional half story to compensate for lost space. After the fire, the area “looked like a war zone,” Madeline said.  “We wanted to rebuild as soon as possible.”

Jan and Bill Knight, who own the Sandpiper Guest House at 19 Ocean Pathway, are optimistically taking reservations for July 4 and afterward. The inn, which is also their residence, was completely gutted owing to smoke and water damage after firemen punched a hole through the roof and soaked the structure to prevent the fire from spreading eastward.  Last week Jan was in town from her winter home in Florida, choosing paint colors. While it’s good to have new plumbing and wiring in the wake of the fire, she said, “I don’t recommend it as a way to get a new house.”

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