Letters

Logical Measure

May 31, 2017

To the Editor:

I own a home in Barnegat Light and am in favor of the idea of increasing the height of homes in our town to 32 feet for a number of reasons. I think it would be a logical and prudent way to manage the height level while maintaining Barnegat Light’s overall character.

Since Superstorm Sandy, and to my understanding, Long Beach Township and all towns on the Island have increased their height restrictions. Harvey Cedars changed its height level to 32 feet in the last few years. This was in response to past flooding and to make sensible plans for the likelihood of flooding in the future. These same changes are occurring up and down the New Jersey coast and in other areas along the Eastern Seaboard. It is a logical response not only in relation to our recent history but to protect against the storm damage that will certainly occur in the future if modifications are not made. 

While Barnegat Light was largely spared during Sandy, I was shocked at how high the water did come up on the ocean dune on our street during that storm. I had never seen water come up that high, and our home was constructed by my father in 1959, nearly 60 years ago. Barnegat Light’s longer history is one of a town that had to learn some very hard lessons from devastating storms that literally reshaped the configuration of the town. The recent warning signal from Sandy was a lesson that our town is still vulnerable from such storms, and logical measures should be taken to protect it.

I have also had the chance to speak with local builders and architects who have worked on the Island extensively. They are very familiar with what is occurring in other towns on the Island as well. These individuals concurred that raising the restriction to 32 feet would be much more in line with what the other towns have already implemented. 

They also mentioned that increasing the restriction will provide an opportunity for those altering their structures to produce a much more attractive home from an aesthetic standpoint. The roof pitches on homes that are being changed will not have to be so flat to conform to the present height requirement. Increasing the restriction to 32 feet will produce a steeper roof pitch and get away from a very “box-type” look that many structures will take on if modifications are not made. If the height level does change, these individuals felt it will produce structures that are much more attractive and provide increased value to the homeowner.

It is for the above reasons that the change to the height level should be enacted. We all love our town and its beauty and no one wants to take away from it at all. Raising the height 2 feet is a reasonable compromise to balance the safety concerns as well as the aesthetic appeal of the buildings in our community.

Bob Dole

Barnegat Light

 

Comments (1)
Posted by: Bill McVail | Jun 01, 2017 09:30

Bob:

As I said in my opinion letter, concerns about flooding should be taken seriously in the parts of Barnegat Light where it could be an issue.  We got a pretty good case study of the impact of a major storm with Sandy, and areas such as the bayside showed themselves to be vulnerable.  However, as I mentioned in my letter, towns such as Harvey Cedars have dealt with this through limiting zoning changes to those parts of the town that are vulnerable - such as the bayside or the extreme southern part of the town.  Where I live - 18th street - the distance between the ocean and the homes is quite substantial...to my eye there was zero threat to my house, and certainly to the north of me there was no issue as well.  As a homeowner and taxpayer, I would certainly support additional discussions about whether selective parts of the town should consider changes to the zoning rules to deal with this issue.

However, it is the other major thrust of your letter that I found interesting.  You talked about "local builders and architects" who "concurred" that raising the height restriction would bring Barnegat Light much more in line with what other towns are doing.  Frankly, for me that argument does not carry much weight.  Of course a bigger house can be built.  Of course a house with more detailed architectural features can be built.  But the question is why does that need to be done?  As I said in my letter I built two new structures within the past decade - designed by one of the preeminant LBI architects, and built by one of the leading LBI builders...and the issue of the height of the property NEVER came up in our discussions as a limiting factor.  The architect said that we had 30 feet to work with, and he came up with a wonderful design that gave us all of the functionality we wanted and needed.  Did we get dramatic gabled rooflines?  Nope...but for us, we never sat and thought, man, if we only had two more feet to work with, our house would be amazing.

It is my strong belief that it is, in fact, the ability to build bigger houses -  houses that will be more differentiated from the existing housing stock and therefore more valuable - that is a primary driver behind this move to change the height restriction (for both potential new homebuilders as well as the architects and builders who work with them).  But for every house that will benefit from a 32 foot height, what happens to the value of the 30 foot house - or the 28 foot house, for that measure?  And where does it stop?

When I saw my 13 East 18th Street house being built, and I saw the impact that it would have on the decks and ocean views of the homeowners at 11 East 18th Street, I could see - and feel - the impact that change would have on their connection with the ocean...and that was within the existing zoning guidelines.  What happens when we start building 32 foot houses?  To be frank, it feels silly for me to be arguing about this - as I am incredibly lucky and blessed to own the house I own.  I just feel that a primary driver for this zoning change - to increase the value of new development - is a change that will not only have a negative real-world impact (both financially as well as structurally) on existing homeowners, but it goes against the unique character and flavor that makes Barnegat Light what it is...and makes it more and more like other ocean front communities that prioritize development and real estate values.

You may view this as the selfish rants of a 30-footer who does not want to see the value of my house impacted by this change; I hope that people who read this see it as the viewpoint of someone who found a way to "play by the rules" (twice), and a person who knows first hand the impact that building bigger and bigger houses can have on my immediate neighbors, and someone who does not want to see the unique character of Barnegat Light be lost in the name of "keeping up with the Joneses" on the island, or in the quest to maximize the value of a house at the potential sacrifice of community characteristics and flavor.

I look forward to meeting you on the 14th.

Bill McVail

Barnegat Light



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