Three Months After Sandy, Camp Osborn Residents Wondering What's Next
Joyful memories shared of years gone by
Next to the images of the Seaside Heights roller coaster and the Mantoloking breach, one of the iconic images of Superstorm Sandy was more than 60 homes burning to the ground in Brick Township.
That neighborhood – which many describe as one of the last vestiges of middle class living near the Jersey Shore oceanfront – fell victim to natural gas fires during the storm. Due to the breach in Mantoloking, which formed an inlet at the base of the Mantoloking Bridge, firefighters could not reach the township's barrier island section to fight it.
"Seeing a fire and not being able to do anything about it, that's so tough," said Council President Bob Moore, himself a volunteer firefighter, after the storm.
Three months later, what's left of the burnt-out homes are still there, now fenced off from Route 35, where traffic has returned and things are slowly getting back to normal.
"In my 61 years in the Camp Osborn area, we had a feeling of our own 'small town' element to it," said Betty Ann Fuller, a year-round resident of the neighborhood. "We had the bread man, milk man, balloon man - you name it, we never had to leave our street. And we walked to church in Normandy Beach."
Before she evacuated the neighborhood the day before Sandy hit, Fuller turned her home security camera to face Route 35 so she could keep track of flooding remotely on her smartphone. For the most part, she said, things looked okay. But then the camera feed went blank.
"As a full time resident, I lost everything, literally everything," she said.
The neighborhood's unique nature could pose issues in rebuilding. The land is divided between three entities: residents of the Osborn Sea-Bay Condominium Association, residents of the Camp Osborn Condominium Association and a land-lease section owned by an individual, Bob Osborn, a descendant of the family for which the neighborhood is named.
Residents of the two associations own the land on which their houses stood, while residents of the latter section lease their land from Osborn.
In a world of new flood standards, building codes and elevation requirements, it has become clearer and clearer to residents that the mix of 1950s bungalows and rebuilt – but grandfathered-in – year-round homes probably would not be able to be reconstructed as it was.
That has left residents not only dealing with rebuilding their homes – but an entire community, from scratch.
"Most of the residents think it's the responsibility of the town to tell us what to do, but the town has been very receptive to us, and asking us about our ideas," said Matt Presutti, who serves on the Osborn Sea-Bay board.
Presutti said he has met with township officials, including Township Planner Mike Fowler and Assistant Planner Tara Paxton.
"The message, to some extent, was to stop thinking about it in terms of blocks. We have to think of it as sort of a blank slate."
But before the "slate" can even be blank, the debris from all of the neighborhood's homes must be removed. For that task, the township will most likely take charge due to the unique safety hazards in play. Residents are waiting for the township council to pass a resolution that will allow the municipal government to go on private property.
The expenditure to raze what's left of the neighborhood will be covered under FEMA reimbursements, township officials have said.
In the absence of the option of rebuilding the neighborhood as it was, residents need to come together and examine the possibilities available, said Presutti.
Townhomes are an idea, for example, but some residents may resist giving up their own small houses.
"I don't think anybody really wants an Ocean Club clone, but at the same time, it's going to be awfully hard," said Presutti. "You can't get 6 people in a room to agree, so how are you going to get 60 to agree?"
"It may take an extra season because people may have to compromise on what their hopes and dreams are," he said. "To build consensus, you start small."
Meghan Presutti, Matt's wife, said several members of her family owned homes in the community. Brick officials have allowed homeowners to access their properties at certain times, which has been "therapeutic," she said.
Amongst the wreckage was the small red wagon in which her children used to ride around.
"There were a lot of small miracles that happened," she said. ""It's hard, because it was so great; so many multi-generational families were here."
"Brick has been great," said Meghan Presutti, who complimented members of the township administration for the time they've spend helping residents. "They want to have open dialogue with us and communicate with us."
Fuller, who's moved multiple times since the storm struck, wants to get home eventually – but she also wants to remember her long-time neighborhood as it always was.
"I'm sure there is a lot of PTSD and sadness in the neighborhood," she said. "I wish it would all go back in time to the happier times, bringing that cup of coffee to the dune and watching the water, watching the fishermen or surfers, and simply smelling the fresh salt air."
But then, there are things that are even more important.
"We should be grateful that none of us were injured," said Fuller. "It made me happy one day at a coffee shop to pay for the coffee of a state trooper who was in line behind me. It was the least I could do."