By PETE WALTON
The Bradley Beach Board of Adjustment has approved construction of a two-story “accessory structure” by a former borough councilman and his wife behind their Monmouth Avenue home.
After its fifth meeting on the subject since June, the board voted 5-1 in favor of the application by Beth and Harold Cotler.
The Cotlers originally received approval on an application for the site in 2018.
However, a stop-work order was later issued when an inspection showed differences between what had been approved and what was actually built.
A zoning permit for the project was denied in February of this year and a new application was filed two months later. The board heard testimony on the matter in June, August, October and November before it was approved at the end of a contentious, four-and-a-half hour special meeting held online earlier this week.
“The applicant is proposing to demolish an existing garage and construct a two-story accessory structure having a two-car garage on the first floor and a residential apartment above requiring variances for the height of the detached garage, minimum side yard setback for accessory structure, and maximum impervious coverage,” according to the official notice of the meeting.
Richard B. Stone, attorney for the Cotlers, said his clients asked him not to deny that they had made mistakes in the process of constructing their new building.
Neither Beth nor Harold Cotler testified at any of the five zoning board meetings at which the application was considered.
Thomas J. Coan, a Fourth Avenue resident who objected to the application, hired Barbara Ehlen of Beacon Planning in Colts Neck Township to give expert testimony at this week’s special meeting.
“This is a classic example of asking for forgiveness instead of permission,” Ehlen said.
During the public portion of the meeting, 15 persons spoke in favor of the application, including a woman from Neptune and a longtime borough resident who now lives in Tinton Falls.
Ira Shulman, who lives on Evergreen Avenue, said the back of his property abuts the Cotlers’ lot.
“It does nothing but improve the entire neighborhood,” Shulman said of the construction.
Sarah Strasser, Second Avenue, said the Cotlers had been put through “an ambush” and that Coan is “always complaining about things in this town.”
Sharon Shulman of Fourth Avenue said the new building was “not obtrusive.”
Lori Asch, who lives three houses away from the Cotlers on Monmouth Avenue, said she didn’t object to the work.
“It looks very nice right now,” Asch said.
Another Monmouth Avenue resident, Kim Charette, said the Cotlers’ new building was a “beautiful structure” and that it was “not constructed with any malicious intent.”
Norman Goldfarb, a Fourth Avenue resident who served with Cotler on the council, said the project was “good for the borough” and that it should be approved.
Osna Haller, who said her zoning application was handled in a “fair and respectful process,” expressed support for the Cotlers.
“I’m disconcerted that in contrast to mine, my neighbors’ process has been costly, contentious and protracted.”
“This proceeding shows that the Cotlers aren’t getting a break,” said Ari Blech of Beach Avenue.
Eleven citizens, all Bradley Beach residents, urged the board to deny the application.
“This is an egregious departure from the original approval for a conforming building,” said Jim Shissias, Fourth Avenue. “It’s setting a precedent that could be used by others. It opens a Pandora’s box for potential litigation.”
“It’s not about beauty or appearance, it’s about following the rules,” said Eileen Shissias.
Brigitte McGuire of Brinley Avenue called the request for approval after construction “truly disturbing” and said that while “others played by the rules,” she believed the Cotlers did not.
“They created this for themselves,” McGuire said.
“I don’t think the town should reward bad behavior,” said Anita Nazario, Newark Avenue.
“This is not about a person, this is about a building,” said former board member Jane DeNoble, Third Avenue. “A building was approved but that building wasn’t built.”
DeNoble said Cotler “approved the ordinance he is now asking forgiveness from.”
“If you say yes,” she told the board, “you say yes to making the rules but not following them.”
Kim Januzzi, Evergreen Avenue, asked why no explanation was ever provided as to why the Cotlers did not adhere to the originally approved design.
“He wasn’t willing to give an explanation to his neighbors,” she said of the former councilman.
“If this building was built according to the plans, none of this would have happened,” suggested Julie Nutaitis, Newark Avenue. “The fault lies with Mr. and Mrs. Cotler.”
Jackie Jankewicz, who lives on Fourth Avenue, said he was “put through the wringer” when he applied to build a garage apartment seven years ago.
“This applicant is in the inner circle,” Jankewicz said of the Cotlers. “People on the outside of the circle have to conform with the rules. You should not grant people on the inside special dispensation.”
Board member Teresa Rosenberg moved to approve the application. The motion was seconded by Raymond Wade. Michael Quinlan cast the lone vote against approval. Joining Rosenberg and Wade in voting yes were David Critelli, Deborah Bruynell and board chairman Michael Affuso.
Affuso said he was “troubled” by many aspects of the application and the proceedings, but voted yes “to move this along.”
“I am kind of disgusted by this whole process,” Affuso said.
The chairman questioned the credibility of the witnesses called by Stone, the Cotlers’ attorney, and Stone’s assertion that the former councilman “had no reason to know he was doing anything wrong.”
Several board members and citizens said they expected the approval would be appealed in court. Coan said he would review transcripts of the proceedings and “determine the legal options outside the bubble.”