Townsends Inlet Bridge connecting Sea Isle to Avalon Now Open

Townsends Inlet Bridge Reopened 2 Weeks ago just before the Food Truck Weekend at Kix in June.  However, there is a 15 ton weight limit.   See chart below if you’re curious.

townsends.inlet.bridge2townsends.inlet.bridgeTIbridgeRoad-leading-to-Townsends-Inlet-Bridge

The TI bridge was indefinitely closed to traffic in early April of 2017 after an underwater inspection revealed a crack and extensive structural damage on the 75 year old bridge. Built in 1939, Inlet Bridge is now a foundational part of the local community as well as the tourism industry in Townsend, NJ and surrounding towns such as Avalon and Sea Isle. It is a crucial part of Ocean Drive and its closing not only created delays and detours for tourists hoping to see the beautiful views, it also made it harder for residents to enjoy the restaurants and local shops. Construction crews built up the bridge with reinforced steel on the support piers, and it is back up and running this afternoon. This is excellent news for local businesses and residents. Although the hope is that eventually a new span will be built in its place, the repairs will do in the meantime. 

Most readers will have zero concern that their are vehicles are over the 15 ton weight limit, but just for fun, I’ve added a chart of various vehicles and their weights.  I was sure the Jersey Transit buses were way over the limit but wondered about trucks, vans and motor homes. 

vehicles weight for TI bridge

 

Sea Isle City to Revise Ordinance on Bump Outs

During City Council’s meeting this past Tuesday, December 13th, a presentation by one of the council members got other council members thinking.   A proposed ordinance was to be voted on that day, but it was demonstrated that it was flawed and needed to be rewritten.  Bump-outs are a decorative architectural feature in home construction.  They are also a way to expand a home while legally “encroaching” into the setback.  In Sea Isle, they can be as wide as 8 feet and can jut out as far as 18 or 24 inches from the house, depending on the size of the lot.   Not only do they enhance the exterior of a home but make a significant difference inside by creating a feeling of a much wider space.

Zoning laws in Sea Isle currently allow bump-outs only in side yards.  That is fine for inside lots.     It is the corner lots that suffer under the proposed ordinance.    The way corner lots are configured facing the street, they have only one side yard.     Currently, that side of the house, which is the  most visible,  can’t have bump-outs.   It is one long flat wall and has zero appeal.     Below is a good example of a 56th and Pleasure home with bump outs on its street side wall.

56th-st-sample

Some water front properties would also benefit by allowing bump outs in all side yards.  After all, isn’t architectural beauty something we should want to have in our community?  Big boxy homes have been built on the island and they are “not” a sight for sore eyes.  We don’t need any more of those.   I hope all architects and builders take advantage of bump outs as much as possible.

All this arose out of the “much ado about nothing” complaints from a minority of taxpayers many moons ago about Monster Houses which obviously still isn’t completely resolved.   Maybe after this hopefully last fallout is corrected, we will finally be at a good place again and be done with it.

Staging properties for sale in Sea Isle City

These photos are of a home I listed for sale where I did the staging as part of the service I provide my clients.

Staging a property to list for sale is tantamount to pricing it properly.     A well staged property becomes a home that a perspective buyer can see themselves occupying.    Any time and money invested into preparing your property to be listed usually brings you the return of more money and a quicker sale.

I offer to do the staging for my clients but if you’d rather do it yourself, here are some suggestions I  recommend:

  1.  The number one thing to do is to de-clutter.     Clear all unnecessary objects from furniture throughout the house.  Keep accessories and objects on the furniture restricted to groups of 1 – 3 items.  In general, a de-cluttered home helps a buyer mentally “move in” with their own things.  Rearrange or remove some of the furniture in your home.   Thin out overcrowded rooms to make the rooms appear larger.  If there is artwork you are taking with you, remove it and replace it with something else.
  2. Extra cleaning focus should be on kitchens and bathrooms.   All personal items should be stored away leaving only a few personal items on the counter.  Keep toilet seats down in the bathrooms because it looks better.  Put kitchen and bathroom rugs away unless they are decorative.  Remove trash from cans and containers.   Included in the deep clean if needed are carpets, windows, sliders, ceiling fans and trim.  I recommend hiring a professional cleaner.
  3. If there is anything cracked or broken, fix it if possible.
  4. A fresh coat of paint can work wonders in the living area or any room that needs it.
  5. Be sure there are no odors!  If you have a grade level bonus room, you may need to get a humidifier to remove the moisture that causes an unpleasant odor.
  6. Curb appeal is very important.   Take whatever steps you can to make the exterior look its best.  Tidy up plants, shrubbery, etc.    Repair broken items if possible.  I suggest power washing if there is build of black stuff on vinyl which is quite common at the shore especially on the soffits.
  7. Make sure all your lights work and any safety issues are addressed.
  8. Where ever possible, a little decorative touch is nice such has a centerpiece on a table.    Find great ideas at Home Goods or Cape May Wicker.
  9. Lastly as a helpful exercise to test your efforts, take a look at your property through the eyes of a buyer as though you have never seen it before.  You will notice if there is a anything left to be addressed.    Good luck!

Sea Isle City Monster Houses & The Monstrosity of Confusion They Created

The subject of Monster Houses in Sea Isle City just won’t go away.    The huge amount of time and effort by everyone involved with this issue was nothing but a dumpster fire.    The changes made won’t make any difference in Sea Isle City’s landscape.  Buildings will be just as high as before but a little bit smaller in floor area, which aspect I doubt the human eye will even notice.  But a small minority of residents are happy now as they thought they won but really, they only succeeded in causing unnecessary havoc in the city they claim to love and care for so much.

Now at issue in the building Ordinance is its vagueness in the definition of “Floor Area.”  See below as copied and pasted from Sea Isle Ordinance 1591.    In its content, the words “horizontal areas” and what that includes is the problem.    Apparently it needs to be defined more clearly because some people can’t see that a “horizontal area” does not include stairwells and elevator shafts.  I don’t know, call me crazy but the word “vertical” comes to my mind when I think of these two things.  Or, “open space” more accurately describes them than does “horizontal.”     I would think a”horizontal area” ends when it meets the stairwell and the elevator shaft and becomes becomes something else.   I can’t walk across a stairwell or an elevator shaft, this I am sure, without needing someone to call 911 from my injuries of “falling through” the “horizontal area.”    Elevator shafts and interior stairwells should be included with the other items below the Definitions that count as “0%.”    It is a no brainer to me but City Official(s) don’t see it this way.    I hope they come to their senses soon and correct this problem.

26-11 Definitions.

Floor area shall mean the sum of the gross horizontal areas of the several floors of the building, or buildings, measured from the exterior faces of exterior walls, or from the center line of party walls separating two (2) buildings. The calculation of the “floor area” of the building shall be based on the following standards: Enclosed floor area on the first floor or above 100%
Glass enclosed and covered porches 100%
Screened or otherwise enclosed covered porches or breezeways 50%
Enclosed attached or detached garage or open carports 0%
Basement space 0%
On-grade patios, terraces and uncovered or covered steps 0%
Open balconies, open attached covered or uncovered decks including roof decks, open covered porches, open breezeways 0%
Projections in compliance with 26-27.6 Encroachments 0%

 

Sea Isle City New Construction, Builders, Floor Area Ratio and Parking

This blog refers to buildings that are the standard, side-by-side condo/townhouse on a standard lot of 50 ft. by 110 ft.

The ongoing parking and Floor Area Ratio (F.A.R.) issue being discussed by Sea Isle’s City Council, its residents and builders continues. The last amendments to Ordinance 1584 that passed this year limiting F.A.R. to .8% of the total lot size may change again.

In 2010, F.A.R. was eliminated. It was .7% but that did not include the grade level bonus room.  The 2010 ordinance allowed homes to be built higher to raise the bonus rooms from off the grade level to above Base Flood Elevation (B.F.E).   The building height limit was increased to 32 ft. above B.F.E. from 30 ft.    Before the 2010 ordinance took effect, bonus rooms were on the grade level and being used as living space but not insurable.  F.A.R. should never have been totally eliminated.  The building footprint did not need to change and shouldn’t have.  Raising the building height and, in essence adding another level for the bonus room, brought the F.A.R. to about .9%.  However, some developers took advantage of the no limit to F.A.R. and were building duplexes whose F.A.R. was over .10% and higher.  These are what I believe are the true “monster houses.”  The homes that were built to the intended translation of the 2010 Ordinance were not bigger, per se, just higher.  The intention of the 2010 amendments to Ordinance 1584 was to give Sea Isle City a better rating with F.E.M.A. and allow the much in demand bonus room to be legal and insurable.

It is important to understand that the increased building height to 32 ft. above B.F.E. has not been amended in the recent 2016 Ordinance 1584 which limited F.A.R. to .8%.    The reason I doubt it will ever change is because it adheres to F.E.M.A. rules.  There is a popular demand for this style home.  By meeting the demand, overall property values are sustained and have increased over time.  New construction is selling for higher prices now than it did before the bubble burst.

On Saturday, May 21, 2016 at 9:00 a.m., City Council convenes to address F.A.R. and a new Ordinance is forthcoming allowing F.A.R. to be changed from .8%.   I heard it may be .85% and I’ve also heard .87%.  Everybody is trying to figure out a way to create more parking by again changing F.A.R.  I’m afraid the cow has left the barn (and moved into a bigger home).   There are not many standard lots left prime for redevelopment to make a difference.  What City Council and all concerned may need to do is to stop wasting time trying to please those that view progress made in Sea Isle City as negative.  Instead it may be more useful to attack the real issue which is lack of parking and too many cars.   Here are a couple of ideas.   More parking areas could be provided for excess cars to park long term and only allow 1-3 cars per residence, depending on off street parking spots that residence has.  Maybe the cars can be parked at a remote location and Golf carts implemented that don’t take up much space.    Maybe they can be rented for a minimal fee at the remote parking locations.   It may need to become part of the rental lease that only 1-3 cars are allowed per residence and make it mandatory that guests or additional renters will need to carpool or be picked up at a remote location, especially on weekends.  The Jitney can be made available during the day. Maybe a bike path on the dunes would help. Lastly, let’s face it.  We are a resort town and for about 8 weeks, the population swells.  I have lived in the center of town for 25 years so I have an idea of what it is like.  I’ve used a bike to get around a lot.

 

I believe that the F.A.R. should be capped at .9% to meet the popular demand (for homes with 5 bedrooms plus a family room/6th bedroom) and keep flood insurance rates down.   Many owners have children and grandchildren they want to have room for which is within the tradition of Sea Isle City being a family town.  If you support this and agree, please come to the City Council meeting on Saturday, May 21, 2016.  I hope to see you there.

Sea Isle City Passes Ordinance Limiting the Size of New Homes

Ordinance 1584 was passed by City Council this morning with 3 voting in favor and 2 against.     For almost 2 hours, opinions, concerns and questions were exchanged.   Architectural plans were introduced showing three different size duplexes demonstrating that from the front, they will look like they do now whether they are .7, .8 or .9.  The size difference doesn’t mean much except that future homes built will be smaller.   It may be that there is one less bedroom but maybe not.   There is no limit to the number of bedrooms in the Ordinance.  This is exactly what is frustrating because will the difference in size really make a difference?  Will we have that many less cars and people to notice because some homes will be a little smaller?   I doubt it.    The cow left the barn a long time ago.   I also disagree with the quickness in which this all happened.   It was suggested by some concerned people, and I agree, that the Ordinance should become part of the Master Plan for the City that will be completed in about a year by the  City’s Planning Board.   I like this because this very important issue would have been examined more carefully and completely.   It is be better to have real facts to refer to when making good laws.    I think it was hastily done and I am not alone.  But, it is what it is.    A new design is on the horizon.  Please see:    Ord – 1584 – reinstate FAR at 8 – as introduced

The other issue is parking which will be next.  The City wants every duplex (condo/townhouses) to each have 4 parking spaces so that makes 8 parking spots for a side-x-side duplex.   The Ordinance that was just passed doesn’t change the footprint of the buildings.  And the height will not change.  The area remaining around the building will be the same so there won’t be more room for parking.  (The setbacks haven’t changed.)   However, the garages can go the full length of the building which will provide more garage parking unless these areas are closed in and used as living space which will be illegal but there are hundreds of illegal bonus rooms existing today.   What would stop anyone from doing it again?  (I think this is what is referred to as creating a monster, no pun intended.)     The amount of impervious coverage is 70%.  In the architectural drawings provided at today’s meeting, it showed 8 parking spots which would require concrete underneath.    Unless a house is pitched correctly, water could accumulate in the rear of the property.  This created another series of comments and peoples’ ideas of a better way.   It will be a challenge to meet this requirement.     It’s because of bad laws in the past that we don’t have as much parking as we should because the curbs in between the driveways have been cut too small and a car can’t fit.polar-bear-plungeI will keep you up to date as to what happens with the parking.  I hope the solution makes sense.   See you at the Polar Bear Plunge

Sea Isle City Monster Houses…..what are they and is there a practical solution to the problem?

MONSTER HOUSE3

What you are seeing here are two side-by-side condo/townhouses built to V-Zone construction normally only found with Beach Front or Bay Front constructions.  These homes, however, are in the middle of the block.  The living spaces in each of these buildings total 105% of the lot size.

The following letter was written to the Mayor of Sea Isle City and the City Council in an effort to offer information and a solution to the problem of “Monster Houses.”  The same day it was sent, the Sea Isle City Council voted on an Ordinance reducing allowable Floor Area Ratio to .8 percent in an effort to end the building of Monster Houses and satisfy the voices of those who complained about them.  They voted this time in favor of the Ordinance but it is not law yet.  This all came about very quickly.  I hope the following letter was read by all it was sent to and the contents taken seriously by the minds of those who we trust to make the best decisions for our city.   I hope they are not acting in haste and are listening to all the people of Sea Isle City.    Most importantly, I hope their votes are not based on personal preferences of their own.  The photos included in this blog are of 4 monster houses that I found in the lower lying areas of town.    Some of them get as much as $6,000 a week in rent and they are west of Landis Ave.  There are beach front rentals that don’t get that much.  These homes’ living space is 105% of the lot size.   The designers of these homes took advantage of the elimination of Floor Area Ratio creating big, boxy and unattractive buildings that are objectionable.  Here is the letter received by the City:

“Dear Mayor, Council Members and City Administrator,

If I may, I wanted to share a few thoughts I have in regards to the much publicized “Monster Houses”. I thank you in advance for taking the time to read and take into consideration my thoughts.

Five years ago, City Council passed revised zoning ordinances for the purpose of advancing compliance with FEMA and the NFIP. The main goal was to eliminate below base flood elevation grade level storage rooms (that were being improved into “bonus room” living spaces) by allowing these rooms to be built at the required base flood elevation height. To accommodate this goal, zoning codes were revised allowing roof heights to be raised two feet and the elimination of the floor area ratio. I believe this has been a very effective remedy to eliminate further non-complying bonus rooms, as evidenced by the flood insurance discounts the city procured for their property owners through the NFIP CRS program. I am certain that every property owner is grateful for the hard work the city officials put forth to bring the flood insurance discounts to fruition.

As a builder of many single and two family homes in Sea Isle City, we found the zoning changes to be well received by our clients and the surrounding owners of the properties we have re-developed. In the spirit of the zoning changes, we were able to take our prototype two unit, 5 bedroom condominium and simply raise the foyers and bonus rooms (into a complying family rooms) to accommodate the city’s goals. Additional bedrooms or floors did not need to be added to produce safe and enjoyable homes. With maintaining the 35% lot coverage requirement, the volume or footprint of the building was not changed except for the additional two feet in building height. The raised family rooms did increase the floor area ratio to approximately 90% of the lot size; however I do not believe these are the style buildings being described as “Monster Houses” that many property owners are up in arms about.

I believe the essence of the Monster Houses started with the changing of base flood height requirements after SANDY. The FEMA advisory maps changed some A-zones to V-zones which initiated the construction of four story buildings on inner island streets. These buildings provide for grade level parking with three full floors above and with as many as 8-9 bedrooms per unit. With three floors conforming to the 35% lot coverage, the floor area of this style building totals 105% of the lot size. Now that it seems FEMA has resolved this problem with the soon to be adopted preliminary maps, some of the four story looking buildings no longer will be built. However, due to the increase of the base flood elevation heights in certain areas, it is still possible to squeeze in four story buildings in some low lying A-zone areas. These buildings are not in keeping with the purpose and intent of the zoning changes made five years ago.

My concern is this; will reverting back to a floor area ratio be taking a step backwards? To maintain 70-80% FAR, I anticipate new designs to include grade levels being primarily used for parking and the 2nd & 3rd floors for living spaces. The oversized grade level garage may be attractive to property owners as areas to partition off for recreational and/or other habitable uses.

There is much more to consider than what I have mentioned above. For example, beach front V-zone style homes have typically been built in the past as elevated three story buildings with parking underneath. These properties have been the unintended beneficiary of the zoning code changes made 5 years ago. Now beach front V-zone homes can be built two feet higher with three full floors at the 35% lot coverage or at a 105% FAR. Also, there are other areas with undersized lots such as in Townsend Inlet where currently larger single family homes with added bedrooms can be built without the need to accommodate additional off-street parking.

One criticism sometimes mentioned is the lack of uniformity of homes and neighborhoods in Sea Isle City. Perhaps changing zoning codes every 5 years or so can create uniformity problems. I also think there are areas in Sea Isle City that differ from other areas and therefore should be treated differently. I do not think there is a one zoning code fits all.

I believe the recent “Monster House” concern is an opportunity to address some major challenges in making Sea Isle City an even more enjoyable vacation destination. It is my suggestion to consider an immediate ban of 4 story buildings from being built in low lying A-zones. This would provide an immediate action to address some of the concerns and may allow for additional time to effectively address all concerns. Perhaps a task force of city officials, realtors, builders/developers and concerned property & business owners can be assembled to work together in unison to devise a plan that suits the best interest of the Sea Isle City community as a whole.

I thank you for your time and consideration.

Rich Mashura

Mashura Builders”

 

 

 

Sea Isle City to limit Floor Area Ratio and how it will affect real estate values

The following was in the Sea Isle City Newsletter dated December 23, 2015:

“During our December 22, 2015 Regular Council Meeting the Council had a lengthy discussion regarding the Master Plan Re-Examination which is currently being undertaken by the Planning Board.  The Council unanimously agreed to direct the Solicitor to draft an Ordinance for Introduction at the January 5, 2016 meeting reinstating Floor Area Ratio (F.A.R.).”

How will the Ordinance affect the values of real estate in Sea Isle City?  I can say with relative certainty that the homes built between 2009, when the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) was eliminated, and now (or soon when the new Ordinance is passed and enforced some time this year), will hold the best value.    Why?  Because they have the most living space of all the homes ever built.    I can speak specifically for homes built by Mashura Builders as holding the best value for more reasons than just size, but I’ll limit this blog to the talking points. They design living space in a very useful way without insulting architectural integrity.   Another words, their homes are not overly big and objectionable and the elimination of FAR was never taken advantage of by them to maximize profit from sales.    But, I am afraid to say, those who did take advantage of the elimination of FAR are the same people who caused the public outcry for a change back to reinstatement of same.

All of you who own one of the homes that was built during the time period when FAR was eliminated will realize the highest value for your property.    As the building codes of Sea Isle City again change, we will have yet another style of home to pepper our streets and cause further inconsistency in the town’s landscape.  The fact of the matter is that most of the real estate has already been redeveloped.  There are not that many tear downs left on full size lots to redevelop into condo/townhouses which is at the heart of the matter.    I am not sure it will really make that much difference overall but it will make a relatively small number of people happy that made a lot of noise during a recent City Planning Board meeting.FullSizeRender3To end on a positive note, Sea Isle City real estate will always be in demand no matter what is built here.  People just love this town and that’s a fact.

Comparing Builders Specification Sheets in Sea Isle City

A Builders Specification Sheet – How detailed is it?

I recently was reading the specifications of four different builders, specifically regarding the foundation and what materials it consists of. On one of the spec sheets, Mashura Burger builders uses treated wood pilings as specified below. On another spec sheet, only cement block is mentioned. Another builder’s spec sheet simply has: “Piling: Yes.” Yet another builder’s spec sheet says the following: “Pile supported grade beam footer. Piling allowance – 25’ length.” Mashura Burger always uses pilings whether local code calls for them or not, so there must be a good reason for that.

When I think about it, I know that an island such as Sea Isle City does not have bedrock beneath its surface. Sea Isle’s Building Code requires the following in its application for building: “13. Engineer’s soil certification stating that pilings are not required or a letter from the contractor stating that pilings will be installed.” Therefore, not all homes are required to be built on pilings if an engineer certifies the soil.

Pilings, and I stress that they be treated pilings so as not to deteriorate quickly over time, should be used in every structure built on a barrier reef island like Sea Isle City no matter what kind of soil there is. This is overlooked by many and when settlement cracks start to show over time, it is then that it is realized. Here is what you want to see on the spec sheet of a home you are hiring a builder to erect regarding construction of the foundation:

Foundation:

  1. Sub Foundation- CCA treated pilings to meet building plan specifications
  2. Foundation- Concrete grade beam per building plan specifications
  3. Concrete block walls with 32” high E-Stone (or equivalent) cut stone veneer exterior finishes 2”x8” CCA 40 treated sills with termite shield on top of foundation walls
  4. Deck Piers- 16”X16” block piers over piling and footing with stone veneer exterior
    finishes
  5. Crawl Space Access- There will be 2 access points- 1 in the rear area of garage and 1 under the rear deck with a lockable slide bolt

Floor Systems:

I have the spec sheets for 4 builders in Sea Isle: Mashura Burger, JF Builders, McLaughlin builders and Tom Welsh builders. Only Mashura Burger mentions “floor systems” as follows:
“1. Floor Systems – ¾” T&G OSB Gold edge or equivalent sheathing on pre-engineered
truss joists”

This is another item that is sorely overlooked. How solid are the floors? Someone contemplating the use of a builder should visit samples of their product and have your spouse or friend walk around above you and see if you can hear footsteps on the floor below. Or, do you hear creaks while walking through the home. Do you feel week areas beneath carpet? Carpet can cover weak areas in a floor like popcorn ceilings can cover cracks in ceilings. Most people look to see if something “looks nice” which is determined by the finishes. Everyone is wowed by hardwood floors, granite countertops, new kitchen cabinets, beautiful colors in siding that are available now, the massive size of these homes and their general newness, but overlook the most important thing of all and that is quality. What is it going to look like 5 years from now, 10 years from now, 20 years from now???