Anchor Produce’s Public Stand on Easement Holdouts Attracts Major Media Attention

Sep 11, 2013
Photo by: Maria Scandale

The now-famous list of beach access easement holdouts has reached far beyond the deli counter of Anchor Produce in Surf City, as ABC’s “20/20” program is the latest to have called owner Michael Nichols for an interview.

The New York Times ran the story Sept. 5, about the sign next to the list saying that these posted residents are welcome to shop in his store after they sign their beach access easement agreement. The agreements would allow beach nourishment projects to proceed. CBS in New York aired a news spot on Sept. 5, and other viewers saw it on “NJ Today” last weekend.

Nichols says he wasn’t seeking notoriety – he was just acting to “create an awareness and the push that we need to get this thing going again.”

His family lives in storm-damaged North Beach, where 14 easement holdouts are standing against signing, and thus delaying the Army Corps of Engineers-approved beach nourishment. Another 2½ dozen holdouts live in Loveladies, also on the north end of the Island.

“If we could get the easements signed, we could get our beaches done,” Nichols summed up. His home property in North Beach had 3 to 4 feet of sand, and thousands of dollars’ worth of damage in Sandy, he said.

“It’s hurricane season – I know I’m scared. I’m in North Beach, and the dune is wide open there. I feel a little more comfortable here in Surf City,” he said in a SandPaper interview Monday at the store, which required only a cleanup after Sandy, not structural replacement. “As we all know, they reconstructed the dunes in Surf City and Harvey Cedars.”

His signs went up in the store on July 10, two days after the N.J. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the borough of Harvey Cedars in the borough’s eminent domain compensation case against oceanfront property owners Harvey and Phyllis Karan. Earlier, a state appellate court had ruled that Harvey Cedars must pay $375,000 to the couple to compensate them for having a portion of their property taken for the Army Corps of Engineering project.

The matter has been remanded to Superior Court.

“I said to myself, now that Supreme Court struck that down, maybe we’ll get these easements done. … Work has been stopped solely because of easement holdouts. The money is there; the government is ready to do it,” Nichols said.

Wondering what he could do “to make a difference, and maybe get the ball rolling,” he decided to go to the Long Beach Township municipal website, where names and addresses of easement holdouts have been listed.

“Being public information, I saw nothing wrong with, after very careful consideration, putting a sign up in my store naming these people, and maybe we can start an awareness in the community, and maybe some progress toward getting the easements done,” he said.

The sign reads, “The following oceanfront homeowners in Loveladies and North Beach will be welcome to shop here as soon as their beach replenishment easement has been signed. If they are your neighbor you should let them know how you feel.”

The initial four places that it was posted in the store dropped to two after a week and a half. The ones at the checkout aisles were making it too hard for the cashiers to concentrate on their job, the owner said – many tourists and local customers wanted to discuss the issue. One sign remains at the deli, and one on the bulletin board near the store exit.

The resulting newspaper clippings came later, as well as the calls for media interviews regarding the store owner’s public stand.

“The attention we’ve gotten from this is not particularly desired; I wish we weren’t in this situation at all, honestly,” Nichols told The SandPaper. “If we weren’t concerned and feel strongly about this, we wouldn’t be doing it.”

A Holdout Family Opinion, But with Anonymity 

Asked whether any of the listed homeowners came in the store to challenge the sign posting, or if attorneys had called, Nichols said no, except for the case of the family of one of the holdouts.

After a daughter of a North Beach oceanfront property owner on the list was in the store and conversations ensued that included customers agreeing with the store’s position, he said, an older daughter who is an attorney called and spoke with him. He eventually directed her to the Long Beach Township municipal offices for dialogue about her specific property.

“That was the one incident where we had a negative reaction to that sign,” the store owner said Monday.

After the signs had first been posted, “instantly the feedback and the reaction was huge and positive,” Nichols said, “and shock and anger – ‘hey, I didn’t know John Smith didn’t sign, I do business with him.’ Most people didn’t know who these people were.”

The SandPaper did contact the aforementioned attorney, who spoke with the paper, and then called back later to say that her father had requested that the family name not be published – she had thought that the reporter had talked to him first and he had OKed it.

Her issue is not with the sign posted in the store, she had said. “I’m a lawyer, and I do know they have the right to post it.”

She outlined several other concerns related to “signing a contract that gives away your property.”

“No one is answering our questions,” she said, adding that she had not at that point received a call back from the township after calling the phone number listed on the township website.

“The biggest concern is what happens when funding (from the government) stops … and they don’t have any more money to maintain the dunes. … The next question is, where are the dunes going to be measured from?  I want someone to come to my house and show me exactly what they’re going to take, how high the dunes are going to be.

“When you buy a home, the dune is considered part of the property. … It’s not that you’re losing your view, you’re losing real estate that you paid for. So, when you go to sell a home, you’ve lost square footage,” she added.

The issue is certainly a hot topic in this resort community whose multi-million-dollar property owners include those in the metropolitan area that the major media covers.

Nichols said the article on the front page of the Metro local section of The New York Times “was the number one most emailed story for 2½ days.”

It triggered hundreds of comments, some of them from around the world. They included opinions from out of the area that property owners should retreat from the coast.

Nichols says his action did what Gov. Christie said last spring at a town hall meeting – in Nichols’ words, “call these people out, and we’re not going to let them stand in our way.”

But as for the attention-commanding part of the sign that says easement holdouts will be welcome to shop there after they sign, the store owner of 19 years says he isn’t saying anyone will be refused service.

“We’re not refusing anyone. The whole point is to create awareness; that’s why we’re doing it.

“If a person came in and said, ‘I’m Joe Schmo and I’m on the list; I want to buy a cabbage,’ I’d say, ‘Joe, I’d be glad to sell you a cabbage, but I’m trying to inform you to please sign that easement. And when you do, come back in and I’ll give you a giant hug and a thank you.’”  

Maria Scandale 

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