By DON STINE
Over the objections of some residents, the Neptune Township Committee on Monday adopted an ordinance that will give officials a better way to deal with derelict and abandoned buildings in the township, including in historic Ocean Grove.
Some residents suggested the governing body table the ordinance for more revisions.
“We have to move forward or scrap the ordinance and start all over. We can always change the ordinance later,” Committeeman Randy Bishop said.
Four of the five members of the governing body voted to adopt the ordinance, with Committeeman Eric Houghtaling casting the only dissenting vote.
“I have always had a little trouble with this ordinance. The biggest problem is the long delay to resolve these issues and I don’t know if the ordinance goes far enough,” he said after the meeting.
Houghtaling said he hopes the ordinance can be amended, as needed, in the future.
“I can understand the frustration some people feel that nothing is being done to correct these problems and I hope we can shorten the process and make it harder on the owners,” he said.
Deputy Mayor Mary Beth Jahn called the ordinance “a living document” that can be amended as needed.
“This has been a long-time issue and people think there are a lot of things we can do. But all of this leads to court and it takes time. We will live, learn, and move on. We will see what works and what doesn’t. People need to temper their expectations,” she said.
The new derelict and abandoned properties ordinance will finally establish an actual list, which will be recognized by law, of derelict and abandoned properties as defined within the ordinance and give the township some added leverage to take care these types of issues.
Suggestions from residents included notifying nearby property owners when a building is posted on the list and that the list should be published as a press release and not as a classified ad in the back of a local newspaper.
Some said stronger language needs to be added to certain sections of the ordinance.
Other residents said that utilities to abandoned building need to be cut off sooner as a fire-prevention measure; that an additional code enforcement official should be assigned strictly to Ocean Grove; and that minimum fines for not complying with the ordinance should begin at $1,000.
Ocean Grove Homeowners Association member Kathy Arlt said that, under the ordinance, it will take up to seven months before any real action can be taken against the owners of derelict or abandoned buildings and that there is no required inspections by local code enforcement officials.
“There is also no incentive for the owners to comply,” she said.
Township Attorney Gene Anthony said that Neptune’s ordinance is based largely upon an existing state statute.
“That statute is out guiding light,” he said.
He said the statute requires no less than six months pass before some action can be taken against owners. He also added that the state statute sets the minimum fine for non-complying owners at $100, which even he admits is too low.
“You are better off not setting any minimum in the ordinance and leaving it to the discretion of the judge,” he said.
Mayor Michael Brantley said that many comments from the public are good and that they will be reviewed.
“We will look at them as we go forward. It’s high time we do something and we will amend the ordinance if we can,” he said.
Brantley said residents with suggested changes or amendments should give them to Township Clerk Richard J. Cuttrell, who will then pass them on to Anthony.
“We will review them and see what types of amendments we can entertain in one document,” Bishop said.
Under the ordinance, any property that has not been legally occupied for six months or more may be considered abandoned if it is need of rehabilitation; construction to upgrade the property has ceased during the six-month period; taxes are delinquent; or the property is determined to be a nuisance by a township code or construction official.
A residence or commercial building can be considered abandoned after six months if it meets any one of these criteria. A seasonal building needs to meet two of the criteria.
The ordinance also appoints the director of code enforcement and construction to identify abandoned properties in the township and establish a certified list of such properties. The owners of these properties must then be sent a letter by certified mail stating that their property is on the list. The list is also to be published in a local newspaper.
The property owner does have the right to appeal the decision that includes their property on the list.
Once a property is on the list, the owner or lien holder must secure the building against unauthorized entry; provide appropriate insurance on the building; and maintain the exterior property.
The township will also have the right to post a sign (at least 18 by 24 inches) on the building giving the owner’s or authorized agent’s name, address and telephone number.
If a property owner or lien holder does not comply with any of the regulations, then a notice of violation will be issued stating that the owner has 30 days to comply with the terms of the ordinance or a summons will be issued.
Fines for not complying with the terms of the ordinance can be up to $2,000 a day or up to 90 days of community service or imprisonment. Penalties will go into effect once the ordinance is adopted.
The Ocean Grove Homeowners Association has been urging to governing body to take some action against derelict and abandoned buildings in the historic district and the association has even recently sponsored two walking tours to showcase the problem.