SEA ISLE CITY - The 19-foot-tall gazebo stands in a corner of Louise Clemente's backyard on Central Avenue, its etched glass panels depicting scenes of sea shore life.
Clemente called it a testament to her memories of Sea Isle City.
A neighbor once called it a monstrosity.
Over the past decade, the gazebo controversy has been through numerous city zoning meetings as well as state and federal courts.
But earlier this month, Sea Isle City officials informed Clemente that the last of her appeals has expired - the gazebo is too tall and must either be shortened or removed.
The gazebo, which was erected in 2000, is about 4 feet taller than zoning regulations allow.
"The city doesn't care how she comes into compliance - we just want her to," city Solicitor Paul Baldini said.
Clemente said the city was to blame from the beginning.
In a letter Clemente sent to Baldini last week, she wrote that she had received approval to build the gazebo back in 2000.
She said she wants the city to allow her gazebo or to pass a law specifically addressing gazebos - one that would allow her structure.
Baldini said he rejected Clemente's claims and said she did not fully disclose that the structure was above the allowable height.
Clemente designed the glass panels, which resemble frosted glass, by hand. There are images of the annual Polar Bear Plunge, city mascot Sara the Turtle, old buildings, sea gulls and lifeguard boats. The gazebo was a 65th birthday present from her children, she said.
"I had good memories of Sea Isle. I've been coming here for years since I was a baby in a baby coach," she said.
Clemente said she believes the city wanted her to donate the gazebo to the city and accused the city of trying to steal it.
"I think they should just put the C.O. (certificate of occupancy) on the building and be done with it," Clemente said. "I told them it's never going to be donated, even on my death."
Baldini said the city does not want the gazebo and would not take it if offered.
Clemente's neighbor, Patricia Urbaczewski, has long complained about the height of the gazebo. Urbaczewski was on the city's Zoning Board when she made the initial complaint about the gazebo.
"When you're on a 50-by-110 (foot) lot in Sea Isle, you have to abide by rules that affect everybody," Urbaczewski said. "The bottom line is the city cannot ignore it because if they do, everybody else will take the same stance."
Baldini said the city will determine how to proceed if Clemente does not comply with the city's enforcement letter.
Sea Isle City has a history of tearing down noncomplying structures. In 2005, the city received a Superior Court order to tear down a Pleasure Avenue home that violated city codes following years of court battles.
Clemente said she cannot reduce the height of the gazebo. She hopes City Council will take up her cause.
"It's a different thing when you come out and see it," she said. "I really think they'll have a different feeling about it."
Council President William Kehner said the issue has been through the court system and Clemente lost her case. Kehner did not support intervening on Clemente's behalf.
"No matter which way we go, we don't satisfy everybody," he said. "If we take up her cause, the neighbor gets upset, and others that are looking at us (will say), 'The law is the law, and you guys are going to abide by it or not.'"
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