City Council voted unanimously Thursday to take property rights from beachfront owners who refuse to allow the construction of dunes and the widening of beaches in front of their Ocean City homes.
At its public meeting Oct. 10 at the Ocean City Free Public Library, council approved the first reading of an ordinance that authorizes the "acquisition of certain interests in real properties by negotiation, purchase, condemnation or eminent domain."
A public hearing and second reading of the ordinance is scheduled for the City Council meeting of Oct. 22.
Obtaining easements from property owners who have rights to "unbuildable" land on the beach is the final obstacle to a beach-replenishment and dune-building project likely to start in spring 2014 on beaches between 34th Street and Corson's Inlet State Park.
RACE FOR EASEMENTS
The administration of Mayor Jay Gillian has been trying to obtain easements necessary for an authorized Army Corps of Engineers project that would rebuild beaches and dunes at the southern end of Ocean City. The project would also include Strathmere and Sea Isle City.
The project is not yet scheduled but is now expected to be completed sometime in spring or summer 2014. City Solicitor Dorothy McCrosson said she's working to have all easements in place by December or January.
Beaches at Ocean City's southern end were severely eroded even before Superstorm Sandy struck in October 2012, but the storm's record flooding wiped out dunes and pushed much of the beach onto the streets.
A hodgepodge of different deeds give some but not all beachfront owners rights to the public beach area in front of their homes. The ordinance authorizes the city to use whatever means necessary to acquire any property that is a separate unimproved lot (on the beach) and to acquire an easement for properties with a residential or commercial structure.
All the easements in question are for property on the "ocean side of the bulkhead," according to McCrosson.
A recent state Supreme Court case gave a Long Beach Island couple just $1 to settle a lawsuit over a seized easement. The decision said the courts must consider not only the loss of value to a beachfront property from views blocked by dunes, but also the added protective value the dunes bring to a property.
The decision fueled an executive order from Gov. Chris Christie to have the Attorney General's Office go after homeowners who won't grant dune easements along New Jersey's 127 miles of coastline. The state is working to protect the entire coastline in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.
Most of the holdouts in Ocean City live in the area between 34th Street and 40th Street, part of an area where healthy dune systems helped protect property and where beaches remain relatively wide. Some owners near there are suing over the height of dunes.
The Army Corps of Engineers completed a beach replenishment project on the north end of the island in June 2013, but worked around a property where the owner refused to sign an easement. That property is included on the list of easements sought by City Council.
McCrosson said the city's ability to negotiate over the language of the easement document is limited by the state and federal requirements for consistency among easements statewide.
UPDATE ON BEACH PROJECT
Ocean City Business Administrator Mike Dattilo reported to City Council on Thursday that an Army Corps of Engineers district commander said in writing that the final design for the south-end beach project could be complete in January 2014 and, barring any unforeseen delays, could start in spring 2014.
Mayor Jay Gillian and the mayors of Upper Township (including Strathmere) and Sea Isle City had asked U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo to help them seek a "definitive schedule" for the project, according to Dattilo.
LoBiondo received correspondence from Army Corps Philadelphia District Lt. Col. Chris Becking indicating the likelihood of a spring start to the project, Dattilo said.
City officials from Ocean City also had been among the first invited to work with the state Attorney General's Office on a strategy for collecting easements — an indication that Ocean City is among the first in line for 2014 beach projects, Dattilo said.
The federal government would fully fund what will like be a more than $20 million initial project for the south end of Ocean City alone. Ocean City would then be on a three-year maintenance schedule for beach fill, sharing in 8.75 percent of the cost each subsequent time.
In the interim, Ocean City will move sand from the north end of the island or truck it in to bolster eroding beaches at the south end.
"We're going to do what we need to do, week by week, to protect property," Dattilo said.
THE REMAINING HOLDOUTS
McCrosson said the city has received a handful of signed easements in the past few days.
Another handful (indicated by **) have promised but not yet submitted signed easements.
The city will work to acquire easements at the following locations:
- 3420 Wesley Avenue: Daniel and Phyllis Hughes
- 3422 Wesley Avenue: The Family Trust Created Under the Veronica P. Talotta Revocable Trust Agreement (dated Nov. 13, 2008), Nicholas J. Talotta, Trustee
- 3427A Wesley Avenue: Brendan and Elizabeth Ratigan
- 3428 Wesley Avenue: Benjamin and Kathleen Colletti
- 3430 Wesley Avenue: William and Joan Frizlen
- 3433 Wesley Avenue: Linda Hammond
- 3412 Wesley Avenue: Joseph and Edna Elvich
- 3504 Wesley Avenue: Joseph and Pamela Balkovec
- ** 3506 Wesley Avenue: George and Cindy Valko
- 3508 Wesley Avenue: Patricia F. Connell, Trustee, OPH Qualified Personal Residence Trust
- ** 3528-30 Wesley Avenue: Theodore Q. Costella (Estate)
- 3602 Wesley Avenue: Dennis and Shirley Dougherty
- 3606 Wesley Avenue: David and Ellen Henry
- 3620 Wesley Avenue: Michele Clark-Dougherty
- ** 3622 Wesley Avenue: Grace B. Conway, Trustee of the Trust Agreement Dated Oct. 1, 1997
- 3624 Wesley Avenue: 3624 Wesley LLC
- 3626 Wesley Avenue: William and Kristine Thum
- 3720-22 Wesley Avenue: Daniel and Edwina Amoroso
- ** 3724 Wesley Avenue: Margaret Walters
- 3726 Wesley Avenue: Michael and Denise Rotko
- 3728 Wesley Avenue: Radnor 1, Inc.
- 3730 Wesley Avenue: Wenonah Holdings, Inc.
- 3800 Wesley Avenue: Marilyn Leonard
- 3804-06 Wesley Avenue: Richard and Esther Sykora
- 3816 Wesley Avenue: Lawrence and Catherine Carron
- 3818 Wesley Avenue: Eli and Jean Kahn
- 3900-02 Wesley Avenue: Leon and Peggy Lou Kanzanjian Jr.
- 3905 Central Avenue: Riccardo and Joanne Possumato and John and Beth Manzi Jr.
- 3913-15 Central Avenue: Richard and Virginia Pepe
- 4116-18 Wesley Avenue: Virginia DeYoung (Estate), Joanne Sellers, Executrix
- 4132-34 Wesley Avenue: Elva Mumma (Estate)
- 4808-10 Wesley Avenue: James E. McDonnell II, Trustee Under Revocable Trust Agreement of James E. McDonnell II, dated Jan. 26, 1996
- ** 5647 Central Avenue: Anthony and Lois Tedeschi
On the north end:
- 9 Beach Road: Vince and Jeanie Hubach
- 13 Beach Road: Vince and Jeanie Hubach