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Hours of Contentious Testimony Delays Vote on Camp Osborn Rebuilding

Homes proposed for a portion of the Camp Osborn neighborhood. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Homes proposed for a portion of the Camp Osborn neighborhood. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

A plan to build 14 single family homes where 32 bungalows burnt down during Superstorm Sandy has been delayed, again, largely due to three and a half hours of testimony before the township’s Board of Adjustment spurred by neighboring property owners who are objecting to the plan.

A group of residents who live on Lyndhurst Drive, which abuts the southernmost portion of the Camp Osborn neighborhood, hired an attorney to formally object to the construction of the homes. Though the attorney, Edward F. Liston, did not directly state the reasoning behind his clients’ objections to the project, his line of questioning often focused on the density of the proposed homes and the distance they would be built from the Lyndhurst Drive homes.

The applicant, Bob Osborn, who operated the neighborhood under a land-lease agreement prior to Sandy, is being represented by Brick attorney John Jackson. Osborn is planning to develop his portion of Camp Osborn with 14 single-family homes designed by local architect Paul Barlo and sell off the homes and the land. The 1,780 square foot homes will feature three bedrooms and stand on pilings with parking located underneath. Residents would own both the land and the home, like in any other neighborhood, and a homeowners’ association would be responsible for a clam-shell road and some aesthetic landscaping, as well as beach access.

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The two attorneys sparred through most of the proceedings, trading objections and frequently engaging in back-and-forth debates over the admissibility of each others’ questioning of professional witnesses. Liston frequently drew rebukes from the board’s own attorney, Jeanne Ann McManus, for his tactics during questioning, which went so far as to include sarcastic comments aimed at Osborn’s planner, Jeffrey Carr, and long-winded questions that Jackson said were designed to delay the proceedings.

“I believe the objector’s ultimate objective is to carry this out as long as possible, and I’ve been explicitly told that,” Jackson told board chairman Harvey Langer after speaking with his adversary during a recess in the proceedings. ” I have a 78-year-old client, this was his only source of income, and [Liston] just wants to grind this down further. A lot of the questions have been distorted, and they have been preceded by statements.”

But despite the rhetoric, Liston wasn’t without a case – the proposed 14 homes do not fit within the zoning of the neighborhood, which calls for 7,500 square foot lots and a number of wide setbacks that would be nearly impossible to fit on Osborn’s plot of land. If the zoning was to be strictly followed, only a small number of large homes would be able to fit on the lot, versus the 14 more modest homes built in a coastal style.

“That affects my clients on Lyndhurst because your backyards back up to their backyards,” said Liston, questioning Carr.

But Carr said that historically, the neighborhood has always been densely developed. Before Sandy struck, 32 homes were located on the property, and Osborn is now proposing to cut the number of homes by more than half under his plan.

“If I was here before the board on a clean piece of property that never had any development on it, I couldn’t make the same testimony,” Carr said. “This property has always had a history of a high density. This has had a density of over 22 dwelling units per acre. There are several factors that need to be considered that hold merit as to why the board should grant this.”

Carr would later testify that Liston’s own clients’ homes sit on undersized lots.

“They have similar characteristics – they don’t have the required lot depth, they don’t have the required lot frontage,” he said. “While the lots may be larger, so are the dwellings.”

Six large homes on Lyndhurst would back up to the 14 smaller homes proposed for Camp Osborn.

“We have 14 units adjoining these six lots, and you’re saying that it benefits these properties because it used to be a lot worse?” Liston asked Carr.

“We are coming in with 10 units per acre. That in and of itself is a positive benefit,” Carr replied.

Barlo testified that the goal in designing the homes the way he did was to provide a “three bedroom home of a reasonable size with compliant parking.”

“We’re trying to give a nod to the old Camp Osborn in that they are narrow units that have gable roofs,” Barlo explained. “It’s one of the needs of the people who lived in this area before.”

As Wednesday’s meeting ended, Jackson still needed to call one witness, a professional planner, who Liston said he planned on cross-examining. Liston also plans to call his own planner to testify before the board.

The proceedings are scheduled to be continued June 17, if time permits at that meeting.