Rebuilding at the Shore

June 6, 2014
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New million dollar home being built on piles on Jessica street in Monmouth Beach.

New million dollar home being built on pilings on Jessica Street in Monmouth Beach.

As shore towns enter their second summer since Super Storm Sandy, things on the construction front seem to be keeping contractors, construction officials, planning and zoning board members – and, of course, property owners – quite busy.

“Our little town is so full of construction trucks, vans and big trucks and house-raising companies,” said Lance “Chick” Cunningham, who chairs the Sea Bright Planning Board. “It’s been interesting to watch but it’s been a tough road for a lot of our neighbors.”

From Highlands to Monmouth Beach, activity continues unabated, with many home and business owners still in the throes of continuing the work of returning their properties to a state that can be used.

Karen Thoren and her husband have been thinking about what to do with their Sandy-damaged second home on Gravelly Point Road, an unpaved dead end street in Highlands. “We were trying to figure out what’s the best thing to do,” said Thoren, who grew up in Highlands but now lives in Andover.

“We’re an older couple, and we didn’t want to get a mortgage and go through all that.”

She considered selling the property but her husband talked her out of it, telling her: “If you leave the beach, we’ll never be able to afford to come back.”

He was right, she realized and they decided they would rebuild, Thoren said. Despite waiting about 18 months to move forward, “I don’t think we’re any worse for the wear,” she said.

For Monmouth Beach’s planning office, there has been about a dozen applications heard this year before the combined planning and zoning board for the community that faces the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Shrewsbury River on the west. Last year the board dealt with a total of 26 applications. In 2012 that number was 11 for the entire year, according to Anne Heinzinger, secretary to the planning board. “There are a lot of applications out there waiting to go forward” this year, she said.

“It’s been hectic,” since Sandy in October 2012, Heinzinger said.

Edward Coolahan, who chairs the Monmouth Beach board, expects the remainder of this year to stay active as people continue to rebuild.

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Monmouth Beach is a mostly residential community and the applications reflect that, with only one commercial project before the board for quite some time. The board is currently hearing an application for the Channel Club Marina, which is seeking to rebuild a restaurant and catering facility destroyed by Sandy, according to Coolahan.

“Last year it was a wait-and-feel-it-out sort of situation,” Coolahan said, with homeowners debating what would be the best plans for them. “This year more people know what direction they’re going in.”

For many “things have settled down and they’ve decided to stay,” Coolahan said.

That means many are lifting their homes to meet federal flood plain levels for protection and to qualify for flood insurance, he said. So far, about 50 homes have been demolished and are being rebuilt and elevated with another 50 with plans to be lifted.

To help streamline the process, officials have amended zoning ordinances to accommodate the added height and some other changes, Coolahan said.

In Highlands, which sustained considerable storm damage, about 40 homes have been lifted and another 20 are being prepared to have work done, according to Paul Vitale, the borough construction official. “We still have another 500 and change to go,” he said of homes that should be elevated.

“Things have been progressing slowly,” on the construction front as homeowners have been awaiting word on federal and state grants, he said.

Some additional challenges, Vitale has been seeing are homeowners who have been defrauded by unscrupulous contractors and those who have decided to just walk away, abandoning their property. “A lot of people don’t have the money to deal with it and are just letting properties go,” he said.

Like other municipal officials, Vitale said he has been seeing mostly residential work and mostly rebuilding, with a few new homes being constructed in the mix, almost all of it is Sandy-related.

Unlike other communities, however, while Vitale remains very active – he works six days a week conducting inspections and meeting the needs of homeowners and contractors – last year was actually busier for his office with an increasing number looking to simply sell their property

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In Sea Bright, “there’s a lot of stuff going on,” Cunningham said, noting the mix of new construction and rebuilding of both commercial and residential work taking place. The evidence can be seen by just looking down any of the town’s residential side streets, he said.  “It seems like every other house is going up.”

On the commercial front, things have been moving steadily, especially for the beach clubs. Those not completed last year now are all done and up and running for the season. “I think they’re turning out beautifully,” he said.

There have been some complaints from residents who have objected to the size of the newly built beach club facilities. Cunningham counters by saying the clubs may be higher for flood protection, but aren’t bigger. The owners won approval for rebuilding on the clubs’ original footprints.

There have been some changes in these communities, too.

In Monmouth Beach, some have used the opportunity presented by the storm to purchase property and building homes on speculation. Those homes are being marketed at $1 million to $1.5 million or more.

Some have complained that is changing the face of the community, Coolahan said. “Some people see that as a negative. It is what it is. I hate to associate the word ‘good’ with Sandy, but the stuff is selling.”

Vitale said there is a developer who has acquired five properties and is constructing five single-family homes to be sold.

Sea Bright’s Cunningham also said, “There are a lot of new people coming in to town” buying and building.

The rebuilding will have the lasting effect of making the community stronger and better prepared for future storms, he said. “We’ll absolutely be in better shape.”

Highlands’ Vitale agreed.

“I see a lot of positive coming out of this,” he said. “As far as the quality of life of the town, it’s going to get better.”

“What you’re seeing this year is people pulling it together,” Thoren said. “By this time next year, we’re going to see a nice rebuilt town.”


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