Height Plan Questioned

May 31, 2017

To the Editor:

I’d like to voice my strong opposition to the proposal to raise the maximum building height of new construction from 30 feet to 32 feet in Barnegat Light.  

My wife and started our search around a decade ago for a second home – a vacation home for our family as well as a potential retirement home when the time comes. We had experience with a broad cross-section of oceanfront communities, from the very rustic fishing communities of Maine and Massachusetts to more upscale and modern vacation communities such as Bethany Beach and Avalon. We could not find a community that combined both the classic, historic feel of New England with the close proximity to our primary residence in the western suburbs of Philadelphia. My wife had a good high school friend whose family had a home in Barnegat Light, which she visited in her youth. We decided to spend a weekend in September to get to know Barnegat Light … and I fell in love.

The active fishing community that just reeks of history and authenticity (now I know all about the famous “Barnegat Light scallops” the Philadelphia restaurants serve!); the beautiful dunescape as you walk north to the inlet; the lighthouse; Mustache Bill’s; White’s Deli (remember, only Memorial Day to Labor Day) – Barnegat Light was everything I wanted. It also had some extremely important characteristics, such as a high elevation and significant dune protection from the ocean, which in essence eliminated the overwhelming majority of other towns we looked at, both on Long Beach Island and elsewhere. As we all know, this valuable aspect of Barnegat Light’s topography showed its mettle during Sandy, sparing Barnegat Light relative to other beach communities in the area. So, we took the plunge and became Barnegat Light homeowners.

I believe that my experience is particularly relevant to the current zoning discussion because I have built not one but two properties in Barnegat Light during the past decade, the first one at 13 East 18th St. and the second, my current residence, at 1711 Seaview. Something very important to note as it relates to the current zoning discussion is at no time, during the design or construction of either property, did my wife and I even consider getting any kind of variance or waiver from the zoning restrictions. It just never came up. We were able, in both cases, to build beautiful, 3,000-plus-square-foot homes that had everything we wanted and needed (both in terms of functionality and architectural design) within the existing zoning guidelines.

To be completely candid, we were very sensitive to how our new house would impact the houses directly around us. In fact, the house at 11 East 18th St. was significantly impacted by our new construction, even given our staying within the guidelines. It is this kind of impact, between neighbors, that at the end of the day, will impact the fabric of a community.

So, with this in mind, I would appreciate an answer to the following questions, which I will also raise at the public meeting in June:

1) Why was there not an active effort taken by council to ask the community about their thoughts on this zoning change before this was put into motion? It is my understanding that, after the March meeting, when Mayor Larson decided to table the discussion pending further public input, the council decided at the April meeting to move the zoning change approval process forward. What changed? What resident outreach was organized by council after the March decision to get more public input?

As I don’t need to tell you, many homeowners and taxpayers are seasonal residents. If the decision was made at the March meeting to get more input from residents, what concrete steps such as questionnaires, emails or other organized outreach to gather input were taken to get that input? And if that was not done, in a truly honest and thorough way, why not?

2) What are the reasons why this zoning change is being proposed? I do understand that other communities may have higher maximum building heights, but my understanding is the primary driver behind the recent changes in many of these communities is because of the impact of flooding, which is simply not an issue for much of Barnegat Light.

I came down to check my house the first day that I was allowed after Sandy, and to my eyes, the only impact was on the bayside; I don’t even believe that the water crossed Central Avenue. And on the oceanside, because of the dunescape and significant distance between the houses and the water, and the rising topography (I believe my house actually sits at the highest topographic point in the town), there is simply no material concern for flooding.  

If there is a discussion to change the zoning guidelines in certain parts of the town such as the bayside (as is the case, for example, in Harvey Cedars) to reflect that concern, that would make some sense to me, but I would like the council to explain to me why, if this change is in part due to flooding concerns, this should impact the parts of the town with little to no flooding concerns.

3) What constituency within the Barnegat Light community is asking for this change? This is probably the most important question I want answered. I built two new houses under the existing guidelines. I had absolutely no issue with those guidelines. My sense is that there has been a fair amount of new construction in recent years, including a fair amount of oceanfront construction. To my knowledge, it has all been done within the existing zoning guidelines, and a walk along the ocean looking back at the town shows a consistent, balanced sense of development. No single properties are towering above others.

Obviously, there will be the kind of turnover that we did, but it was done within the existing guidelines followed by other homeowners, and it feels balanced. I worry that as zoning guidelines are changed, there will be bigger and bigger footprints being built around a community of existing houses and generational residents of Barnegat Light, leading to the kind of impact that my first house had with the residents directly to my west.  How are future homeowners being disproportionately damaged by the zoning guidelines that I and many others have complied with for years?  

I encourage all members of the Barnegat Light community with concerns about this proposed change in the building height zoning guidelines to join me at the borough council meeting on June 14. Make your voice heard.   

Bill McVail

Barnegat Light



Comments (1)
Posted by: Jean D Ragone | Jun 01, 2017 07:05

In support of Bill McVail's opinion just take a walk through Harvey Cedars. In particular walked down the beach and look at the western skyline. You used to see a variety of different style and sizes of homes with plenty of space in between and miles of sky above.  Now we have homes taking up every single square inch of buildable space that formerly was not buildable and loom above the other homes. Now take a walk on the other side of these homes built with the new oceanfront height limits and you will see quaint Island homes that now exist in shadows; whose oceanviews have been obliterated; whose sky views have even been reduced; who now look directly into their new neighbor's house as opposed to have even just a peek a boo view of some blue sky or shiny water; whose land now floods with every rain creating a mosquito breeding ground and killing vegetation because the new construction involved building bullheads and raising the ground level by 5' or more.


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