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For Camp Osborn Residents, Coming Home Remains Out of Reach

A desolate landscape at Camp Osborn, Oct. 28, 2014 (Photo: Daniel Nee)

A desolate landscape at Camp Osborn, Oct. 28, 2014 (Photo: Daniel Nee)

In Brick Township’s Camp Osborn neighborhood, many remain without summer homes, and some remain without homes at all.

Fresh off another summer of beach memories foregone, residents keep in touch through a Facebook group. Some have moved away, some have remained in their year-round homes in North Jersey and beyond, while the Camp’s year-round residents remain in rental homes in parts of Brick which remained standing. There are plenty of old photographs posted on a near-daily basis, talk of whose boat someone saw passing by in the bay, and news of long-time homeowners who died without ever getting to say goodbye to their friends.

The story has been told over and over again: through some combination of wind, rain and what some believe were faulty electrical lines, a fire broke out during Sandy, charring dozens of homes from the ocean to the bay. The Camp, located just south of the Ocean Club condominium complex, was one of the last vestiges of a once-thriving middle class community by the sea in Brick’s barrier island portion. While most other portions were bulldozed in favor of McMansions, often displacing local residents in process, the Camp lived on, mostly in the same form as when it was gradually built over the course of the 20th century. Before Sandy struck, a revised zoning ordinance promised some rebirth in the community, with some newer homes built and sold for prices often lower than the rest of Normandy Beach, providing hope that the dream – whether year-round or seasonal – of living by the beach could become a reality for many.

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Most of Camp Osborn was made up of small, single-family homes whose owners formed the Osborn Sea-Bay Condo Association. Another plot is owned by a long-time landowner, Robert Osborn, and a smaller association controls another area.

The Osborn Sea-Bay association accounted for about 78 homeowners, all of whom lost their homes during Sandy. Brick Township, under a FEMA program, eventually demolished all of them. Two years later, with hope of rebuilding all 58 single-family homes on undersized lots on the ocean block dashed by modern zoning and fire code realities, the fate of the neighborhood is proving to be one wrought with complications as homeowners struggle to reach a consensus on a rebuilding plan, how owners who can’t afford to rebuild can sell their interests and which contractor should be awarded a lucrative construction contract.

Under plans drawn up by Brick architect Paul Barlow, all of the Camp’s units can be rebuilt in a modern condominium-style complex, complete with walkways to the beach and ample parking. But bringing a large group of people together has been a challenge, despite the sentimental and practical desires of residents to come home.

Camp Osborn, Oct. 28, 2014 (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Camp Osborn, Oct. 28, 2014 (Photo: Daniel Nee)

“My kids ask me every week when we’re going to go back to the beach,” said Matthew Presutti, a seasonal Camp resident who is president of Osborn Sea-Bay. “For the first time since the summer of 2012, we spent a couple of days at the Shore. We rented a house for a long weekend. It was a few days at the end of September, and of course, you miss it.”

Presutti said initially, there was hope single-family homes could be built at the site through a plea to the township’s planning and zoning boards for variances. Indeed, final approvals are pending for the association’s site plan to rebuild as such on the bayside and in the Route 35 median.

But “there’s no way you’re going to get 58 single family homes on the ocean,” Presutti said.

In September, the residents were close to having a plan in place. Two builders had come in with proposals, including exit strategies for those who either couldn’t or did not want to rebuild. Homeowners took a vote: the outcome was 23-to-21 in favor of one of the contractors, not enough of a consensus for the community leaders’ comfort.

“The board couldn’t, in good conscience, say a third of the residents were going to define the course for everybody else,” said Presutti. “That was a pretty crushing moment in September because I really thought it was going to work out.”

While not going completely back to the drawing board, Presutti said he will continue to engage his fellow residents and try to reach a solution a strong majority can agree on. Another homeowners’ meeting is set for this weekend.

“People are more antsy,” said Presutti, now that two years have gone by. “There are some people who are still homeless. They were second homes for some, but not all. I feel really bad for those people, acutely so.”

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