[EDITOR’S NOTE: The court issuing this ruling was incorrectly named in the Oct. 12 print edition of The Coast Star.]
BELMAR — The Appellate Division of New Jersey Superior Court has upheld the zoning board of adjustment’s 2019 decision to approve variances permitting redevelopment of the historic Belmar property commonly referred to as the White House.
The ruling, issued on Oct. 6, dismissed an appeal of Superior Court Judge Linda Grasso Jones’s previous ruling on the matter from last February that had also upheld the board’s decision.
The Appellate Division ruling, unless further appealed, would clear the way for a 2018 plan which called for demolition of the former 34-room boarding house at 102 Second Avenue and construction of a townhome project in its place by Down to Earth Construction LLC.
The firm’s attorney, William Shipers, said Thursday that the plan’s opponents have 20 days from Oct. 6 to seek certification to file an appeal with the New Jersey Supreme Court, but called that eventuality unlikely. Attorney Thomas F. Carroll III, who represented the opponents, had not returned calls for comment as of Thursday afternoon.
In a comment to The Coast Star, Bill Merkler, principal for Down to Earth Construction, said, “We are extremely pleased with the court’s decision and look forward to moving forward with our project that we believe will improve the neighborhood and beautify Belmar.”
Mr. Merkler said that Down to Earth Construction will submit demolition plans to the borough within the next week and anticipates that demolition will begin in early November. This will lead directly into project construction, which he said will take approximately 18 months to complete.
He said the townhome project was designed by local architect Mary Hearn, “who did an amazing job.”
Describing the project, Mr. Merkler said, “We believe the plan captures the ocean and inlet views and is well suited for families as well as retirees with open floor plans, elevators to each floor, storage and parking.”
Proposed redevelopment for of the White House building, located at Block 10, Lot 1, zoned R-75, has been an ongoing controversy in the borough since 2019, when the zoning board granted variance relief to Down to Earth Construction, to proceed with plans for a two-building, six-unit townhome.
On Aug. 22, 2019, after having held five public hearings over the course of seven months, the zoning board adopted a 108-page resolution to approve Down to Earth’s preliminary and final site plans for the project, along with both C and D variances.
The plaintiffs of the appeal, Joseph Puleo, Rita Puleo and Joel Russell, who own the two properties adjacent to the White House, formally objected to the application and had filed a complaint in court to reverse this decision.
They argued that the redeveloper’s application failed to provide adequate notice of the matters to be considered during the hearing or meet the positive and negative criteria required by the state for such variance approval.
Later, in 2020, the Puleos were named in a countersuit filed by William Shipers of Shamy, Shipers & Lonski, which accused them of tortious interference with the project and claimed they had attempted to prevent an agreement between the owner of the White House and Down to Earth Construction, as well as threatening to prolong the process in court in order to delay development. However, this countersuit was later dismissed in March of that year by Judge Grasso Jones.
The judgment denying the original 2019 appeal was issued three years later by Judge Grasso Jones on Feb. 18, 2022, who ruled that the zoning board’s decision was acceptable. Following this denial, the plaintiffs filed a second appeal, which was unanimously rejected in the Appellate Division’s Oct. 6 ruling.
The Appellate Division ruling stated that the board’s decision to approve the application for the proposed redevelopment of the property “provided ‘a more than ample factual basis’ for the decision [and is] satisfied that the Board’s decision was not arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable and was amply supported by the record.”
This is an excerpt of the print article. For more on this story, read The Coast Star—on newsstands Thursday or online in our e-Edition.
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