It’s been a 100+ days since Sandy hit our shores and we are
still in a state of confusion. Our town has never experienced the destruction
from a storm like Sandy. Like I said, it’s been a few months. We all expected
the confusion to end and good sound reasoning to come from the elected
officials and administrators in charge. That has not happened! The confusion
continues to grow day by day, like it is part of a plan. Now before you think
this is just another conspiracy letter from a frustrated property owner, let’s
look at some of the facts.
The people who own property in Ortley Beach still cannot be sure what flood
zone their properties are in. At present, we will not know until late summer,
maybe sometime in August, what flood zones are to be applied to Ortley Beach.
So the property owners of Ortley Beach remain in a state of confusion. Should a
homeowner/business owner take a chance and rebuild to the flood zones the
Governor said are in effect, or do they listen to FEMA, who said that these
zones may change? The FEMA representative said at a meeting held in January,
that the present flood zones may change because Toms River Township has
requested changes to the flood zone maps. Those flood zones maps, directly
affect whether a property owner raises their homes/businesses. The maps also
effect the elevations of all the buildings being rebuilt and what type of
foundation the house/businesses are built on. Not to mention, that flood zones
directly affect the cost of flood insurance premiums. So it is plain to see how
any change or attempt to change flood zone maps can create confusion and stall
any rebuilding plans.
The new height limits do not take into account the present handicap regulation.
Now if you make the wrong decision, tens of thousands or even hundreds of
thousands of dollars could be wasted and the homeowner is stuck with a flood
insurance bill that can equal or even surpass their tax bill or mortgage. Or
even worse, the property owner who listens to the Township and follows the
Town’s requirements, may be denied a Certificate of Occupancy, because the
rules have changed mid-game. I have yet to mention the 50 % rule, the lowering
of our property values, the reassessment of our real estate taxes and how they
are levied. The best yet, is a homeowner that has a house that is right at Toms
River height limit of 35ft. The homeowner is required to raise their home if
they sustained 50% or more of damage. Reason would dictate that the height
restriction would be lifted to conform to the new FEMA zoning rules . Not in
this case! The homeowner not only has to raise their home, but in order to do
so the homeowner must lower their roof. That's right, the homeowner has to cut
down their roof! The latest news as of February 11, is that the Township may
offer property owners who are facing height limit restrictions a review
process. Now, the property owner with all the problems facing them, have go
before the Board for a variance. This process adds undo time and unnecessary
additional expenses to the rebuilding process. If the new codes require a
property owner to raise their dwelling, let's say, 3 ft. just let them raise
the dwelling. It was the Governments decision, their law, to have
homeowners/businesses raise their establishments or face outlandish flood insurance costs.
Stop all the red tape, conflicting rules, and regulations, that only add
to the rebuilding time and expense. Common sense tells you if you raise a house
3ft., it’s going to be 3f.t higher when your finish raising it. How about if
Toms River Township, just calls a meeting of the Variance Review Board, they
meet and pass a set height limit of 45 ft. for properties that need to be
raised. Is this too much to ask? If someone needs to exceed the 45ft. have them
apply for a variance. Other Towns have waived their overall height laws so
property owners can raise their homes/businesses to the required levels without
extra expense, red tape and confusion.
The other concerns the homeowner now faces after they rebuild, is how well
constructed is a house/business after raising it, changing the foundation and
the possibility of cutting down the roof if a variance has been denied. How
about this decision, does the homeowner want to own a house that has been
significantly reconstructed and looks totally different than the original one
they bought and/or built? Property owners are taking all of the above into
consideration some owners are just walking away. Can you blame them? They are
getting whatever they can get for their homes/businesses and leaving – they have
had enough!. They simply cannot afford the required changes. They are tired of
dealing with all the red tape (that changes day by day), and all the undue
expenses that just get added onto the total cost of rebuilding. The state of
confusion that exist between FEMA and the Township is mind numbing. Or maybe
they just cannot bring themselves to pour their life savings down a bottomless
Now to add even more confusion into making the decision to rebuild, the
Governor announces that the State Government is thinking about the possibility
of buying back homes. That is very benevolent of them. This also adds to the
confusion. Do property owners conform to the new FEMA elevation heights, deal
with all the local red tape, the added expense or accept a buyout, if one
becomes available? Now if the Government really wanted to help and keep people
in their homes, they could lend the property owners the same amount of money
they are willing to buy their homes for. The Government could charge a low
interest rate for the loan. The property owners would pay back the loan, after
a number of years. This would be a welcomed alternative for property owners to
rebuild their homes. As well as an economic boom for the local economy . Now if
the plan is to help people to rebuild their homes, can someone please tell me
how it is helpful or makes sense to give someone more money to buy their homes,
rather than rebuild them? Why does the State want to spend public funds to buy
a wrecked house just to demolish it and then rebuild the house? What’s the
purpose when the original house has an owner? Just help the original owners to
stay in their homes by offering the buyout money in the form of a low cost
rebuilding loan. What does the Government have planned for the property they
plan to buy with our tax dollars.
We all heard/read about a proposed “state of the art” dune/seawall system that is planned along our shores. The planned dune/seawall is designed by the Army Corp of Engineers and has the approval of the Toms River Township. With the proper dune/seawall system in place, there should be no reason for higher flood insurance premiums. This dune system should also allow FEMA and the Townships to change existing flood zones, building elevations requirements, and relax some building standards. The dune/seawall would also lower construction cost and most of all help lessen a property owner’s confusion. What about the dune/seawall? Is it being built? Are property owners with beach front property and associations with beach front property signing easements? If not, why not?
What actions to date have been done regarding this? Ortley beach property owners, who depend upon the dune/seawall, do not want to see, hear or read about the present temporary dunes being breached after each storm (like this past weekend); just because a private beach front property owner did not take the necessary precaution with their property. Maybe it’s time the Government steps in and makes it mandatory for every ocean and bay property owner responsible for their own dune/seawall system (as specified by the Township and the Army Corp of Engineers) with hefty fines imposed for every occurrence if their property was the cause of an ocean or bay breach. You could also make them responsible for any damage and/or clean up associated with each specific breach.
The Township and property owners who are affected by any private property breach should be reimbursed 100% for the cost of their damage and/or clean-up. If the Government imposes rules of this magnitude maybe they won’t be so reluctant to work with the Townships and sign the necessary easements. So again, I ask you, what progress is being made with the dune/seawall? What is the completion date of the dune/seawall? A 100+ days and still no start to the dune/seawall system, just a lot questions with no answers. When does Hurricane season start? Is Ortley Beach to be left with another temporary dune?
This reminds me of the dune system Ortley Beach homeowners/ businesses were left with after the Veterans Day storm of 2009. By the way, the Town’s replacement dune system (which was just the dumping of more sand) washed away with the next storm. If it didn't work in 2009 what makes the Town think it will work in 2013. It is time the Town builds the proper dune system in Ortley Beach and not leave their homeowner/businesses in unnecessary danger from ocean flooding that can be controlled.
I mentioned very briefly earlier the handicap issue. With all the talk about changing flood zones from A to V, no one in Government has taken into consideration the existing Federal Handicap Laws. In speaking with numerous government agencies (including the Governor’s office) I have been told time and again “we’re working on this”. With proposed entrances to private and commercial properties starting at around 12ft., how do the handicap and the elderly gain entrance and exit to these properties?
Some existing properties (both residential and commercial) due to their existing footprint, limited amount of building space, parking requirements and property restrictions, will not be able to conform to the Federal Handicap Laws. Some examples are strip malls where parking spaces are limited. Shops and stores that have limited sidewalk frontage. Homes with limited property, cannot accommodate a Handicap entrance and the Towns off street parking requirements. It is plain to see from this issue alone, that no one in the Federal, State and Local Government, who are making these rebuilding decisions, have thought the handicap issue through from start to finish. This just proves my point, another example of the jumbled mess of confusion on all Government levels.
For example, what about the commercial property owner who wants to rebuild, only to find out after their building plans are finished, that their new business establishment does not comply with the Federal Handicap Laws. Therefore, they would have to be redesigned, causing an additional delay and undo expenses. This is just another example of more unnecessary money being spent by both commercial and private property owners. This is because the Federal, State and Local Government code enforcers did not take the Federal Handicap Laws into consideration when they designed their grand redevelopment plan.
When you start to think about all the facts, red tape and regulations added expenses that make no sense, you begin to wonder if the Towns and Government want to force the existing property and business owners out. Are they looking to replace the present homes and shops with new homes, upscale shops and large condos/townhouses that would bring in a higher tax rate for the Towns and State Government? All I am saying is all this useless red tape, undue expenses, regulations that conflict with other regulations, no firm set flood zones, the continued flow of misinformation, building codes, and flood insurance cost not seen anyplace else in the country. You begin to think (I know I am repeating myself), that these government imposed rulings have just one purpose in mind -- the repopulating of Ortley Beach with new homes, upscale shops and condos that will pay the State and Town a higher tax return.
We all knew that after Sandy the Town of Ortley Beach would be changed forever. We were promised help, which we got, with the clean-up, volunteers, and the work of our First Responders. Now that a few months have passed, that help has turned to hindrance. We the tax paying property owners must demand that Town officials who are making the decisions, meet with just the property owners of Ortley Beach.
They need to have 3 or 4 meetings so attendance is limited to small groups. This way every property owner can ask questions and have them answered. The Town officials who take part in these meetings should come prepared and equipped with definitive answers. Let's end the confusion, cut away the red tape, and end all the unnecessary building cost and start to rebuild. We in Ortley Beach just have to look at the Towns to the North and South of us and see the progress they have made.
We all know that Ortley Beach was hit hard, but that is no reason to drown us in a sea of useless red tape, costs and regulations. The dunes failed because of a lack of maintenance by the Township, as proven by Jon K Miller, Ph.D. The people of Ortley Beach did not fail. The Township representatives have to realize we are now aware of this fact. They have to start taking our issues and concerns seriously .
The Township has to start to answer our questions, and finally take responsibly for the condition of the Pre-Sandy Dune System. They need to design a rebuilding procedure that expedites the permit, building code and inspection process. The goal should be to help the property owner to get their C of O and put them back in their home as safely and quickly as possible.
The rules that govern rebuilding have to be founded on common sense and practicable building standards. The flood zones and building elevations have to be configured on the new dune system the Army Corps of Engineers is building.
If the Township of Toms River refuses to meet with the people of Ortley Beach or hold a few meetings so that we can address our concerns, then we the people of Ortley Beach, will know that the Township wants to force us out. Then finally the confusion ends and we either legally fight back or let the Township have their way.