By JOANNE L. PAPAIANNI
The former Hotel Powhatan Hotel near the beachfront in Asbury Park could be restored to its former glory through the efforts of city developer Pat Fasano, if city officials approve.
Fasano and his attorney, Charles Liebling, attended this week’s Board of Adjustment meeting to appeal a decision by the zoning officer that the existing use of the building as a hotel had been abandoned by its former owner, Robert Sorge, who operated the 26-room building as Abunda Life Church of Body Mind Spirit.
Sorge, referred to as Dr. Sorge, does not have a medical license. According to online information he is a naturopath and osteopath and distributed natural remedies to clients.
The building at 208 Third Ave, was built in 1911 as a hotel. Sorge purchase the property in the 1960s.
Attorney Fredric P. Lavinthal representing his client, Master Redevelopers iStar, said that the use as a hotel was abandoned by Sorge and could not now be reinstated.
Fasano, who purchased the property in October 2016, said at the time the building had the appearance of a functioning hotel with a lobby, front desk and 26 rooms, each with a private bathroom.
He explained that Sorge was having financial difficulties and approached him to buy the building. At that time Fasano and Sorge entered into a two year lease back agreement allowing Sorge to live there.
However, Fasano testified that last summer Sorge became ill and went to Arizona to live with his daughter.
“I gained possession of the building,” Fasano said.
Fasano then applied for the appropriate documentation including a title transfer in August of 2107. At that time he decided he would begin developing the building and restore it as a hotel. He went so far as to research the former hotel on the Internet in an effort to replicate it.
Fasano said it would be a similar project to the Majestic Hotel in Ocean Grove which he purchased and restored.
He also presented a 2009 document from then tax assessor Mary Lou Hartman stating that the building was a 26-room hotel, spa, food store and restaurant.
He also said when he registered the multi-dwelling building with the Department of Community Affairs as required by law he was given no indication by representative Mark Ridge that the building could not be classified as a hotel.
Fasano said the zoning officer issued a permit for him to begin work on the hotel but iStar objected and it was withdrawn.
“They reversed it, that’s why we’re appealing,” Fasano said.
The attorney for the plaintive in the case Master Redevelopers iStar, Fredric P. Lavinthal, argued that the building had not been run as a hotel since 1964.
He also questioned Fasano about the number of properties he owns in the city, whether he considered himself “sophisticated” and implied that Fasano had not read or understood the deed to the property when it was transferred.
Lavinthal also asked Fasano if he had consulted city officials before applying for the building permits.
“I sought legal opinions. The one I got was different than yours,” he said.
Lavinthal also presented an email from tax assessor Eric Aguiar dated Oct. 11 stating that the building should be used as apartments because the hotel was abandoned.
Fasano said he did not remember seeing the email.He said if permits for a hotel are denied he will sell the property along with adjacent properties to another developer.
He also said on Monday that he believes the city denied his permits for the hotel to placate iStar.
“iStar does not want another hotel,” he said.
Due to time constraints and Lavinthal’s statement that he had more questions on cross examination, the application was carried to the July 10 meeting of the zoning board.