By JOANNE L. PAPAIANNI
The decision on whether or not the former Hotel Powhatan in Asbury Park, built in 1911, will be resurrected looks like it will take some time.
At its meeting this week the Board of Adjustment decided to grant iStar’s attorney, Frederick P. Lavinthal, a chance to cross examine a planner who testified for applicant Patrick Fasano at the meeting.
Following testimony the application was carried to the Oct. 9 meeting.
Fasano purchased the Third Avenue property as well as adjacent property in October of 2016. He is hoping to restore the building to a hotel, keeping many historical elements.
Prior to the purchase the building was being used as a retreat house for Robert Sorge, who is also know as Dr. Sorge and who had been operating the former 26-room facility as Abunda Life Church of Body Mind Spirit.
Sorge, who does not have a medical license and bought the hotel in the 1960s, is a naturopath and osteopath and distributed national remedies to clients according to online sites.
Lavinthal says it is his opinion that because the Powhatan ceased to be operated as a hotel, but instead as a retreat house, the use was abandoned during that time, and it can no longer be operated as a hotel.
At the Sept. 25 meeting Fasano’s attorney Charles Liebling called planner Eileen Banyra to testify.
Banyra, who said she has over 30 years experience as a municipal planner, testified that the building is a hotel and has always been a hotel despite being used at one time as a retreat house.
She disputed claims that because, during his tenure as owner, Sorge only had clients staying in eight of the 26 rooms, it disqualifies as a hotel.
Liebling said he is appealing to the board for certification of preexisting non conforming use, which would allow Fasano to restore the building and operate it as a hotel.
Banyra, citing prior cases, said the use of the building was not abandoned simply because it became a retreat house instead of a hotel.
“The building is still the building,” she said.
Banyra toured the structure and the adjacent parking lot and said in her opinion the building, although “dated” has all the elements of a hotel noted in the city’s zoning codes.
She said even though only eight rooms were used at one period the building still had 26 rooms, with private baths and still met the confinements of the zoning ordinance.
“The name change seemed to be more related to taxation than abandonment and I don’t believe it has been abandoned,” Banyra said.
She said she looked at the historyof the building which was built as a hotel in 1911 and met the definition of a hotel then.
“Nothing would make me say it’s a restaurant or retreat house, it actually meets the definition of a hotel. The occupancy of only eight rooms is not a factor…it still does not change the designation to something else,” she said.
Lavinthal, attorney for iStar objected several times during the testimony and petitioned the board for more time to research the history and zoning ordinances to rebut Banyra’s testimony
The board allowed Lavinthal to return to the board’s Oct. 9 meeting to cross examine Banyra on the advice of board attorney Jack Serpico who cautioned that the case could end up in court in Freehold if all parties are not sufficiently heard.
Lavinthal also told the board that after rebutting that testimony his client intends to present a case of its own leading board chair Chris Avallone to say, “This is going to go on for a while.”