Ocean City has often led the state with its number of residential demolitions each year, but this year’s increase in teardowns is driven by necessity, not choice.
The housing boom drove demolitions a decade ago, but now damage from Hurricane Sandy is forcing property owners to demolish their homes and start over.
More demolition permits have been issued in the city so far this year than all of last year, and the pace of work looks to be increasing. After a ban on demolitions during the summer was lifted for properties damaged by the storm, hundreds more homes may fall in the next several months.
“I think there are still an awful lot of homes where people haven’t made a decision on what to do yet,” said Matt Unsworth, a home builder based in Upper Township who said he will tear down three homes in Ocean City this summer.
Roslyn Lanza was one person who spent the past seven months agonizing over what to do with her home before finally knocking it down in May. The 78-year-old’s house on Simpson Avenue between 14th and 15th streets had several inches of water inside after Sandy, and that ruined all the carpets, furniture, appliances, walls and insulation.
“There was a lot of stuff that should not be in your house in that water,” she said. “It was raw sewage.”
She said the cost of repairs turned out to be “monumental,” and the modular homes she priced also were too high. She finally decided to just build anew, but she still is unsure about her future and feels like she has lost a part of herself.
She and her husband bought their home in the ’70s and decided to live there full-time, making their house in Cherry Hill a secondary home because her husband worked in Philadelphia. He died in 2006, and she could hardly bear to destroy the shore home he loved.
“Those walls held a lot for myself and my husband,” she said, “and they’re all gone now. It’s a tragedy. It really is.”
Ocean City issued 106 demolition permits in 2012, compared with more than 120 issued already this year.
Normally, the city bans demolitions in the summer, but City Council approved an ordinance in May that allows such work after Memorial Day only for storm-damaged homes. As insurance checks start arriving and mold is spreading in the heat, city officials expect the number of demolitions to continue rising.
However, this is not necessarily new for the community. In the first half of the 2000s, the island alone had more building demolitions than most entire counties in the state, peaking at 461 in 2005. Excluding Cape May County, only four of the state’s 20 other counties had more demolitions that year.
Those numbers declined when the housing bubble burst, but they are on an upswing this year, along with most of the state’s coastal communities.
According to the Department of Community Affairs, which collects permit figures from throughout the state, 1,240 demolition permits were issued from January through March statewide, 63 percent more than during that same period the previous year.
By municipality, Toms River issued the most permits over those three months, followed by Union Beach in Monmouth County, then Little Egg Harbor Township, then Ocean City. All but one of the top 10 communities with the most demolitions were coastal towns.
May was the busiest month so far in Ocean City, with the city issuing more than one permit per day on average.
Sean Barnes was one of those people seeking a permit last month. His bayfront home on Revere Place was not only flooded, but surging waters cracked his foundation.
“I haven’t been able to live in the house since the storm,” he said. “It was rendered unlivable from day one.”
Since then, he has been renting his neighbor’s home. He finally demolished his house in May, and plans to start construction in July, with the goal of moving back in around January.
“It’s taking longer than I thought it was going to take,” he said, “but I’m getting through it.”
Another of the permits issued in May was for the former home of Mayor Jay Gillian’s mother on Ferndale Drive, a 2,740-square-foot building that Gillian said was sold recently.
Only one permit has been issued in the city so far in June — for the demolition of a 1,392-square-foot single family home on Haven Avenue near 28th Street. That building started to come down Monday morning.
Unsworth said he already has torn down five homes in town this year. His company, Clermont Homes, which subcontracts demolition work to Earthtech Contracting, has handled knockdowns in the past, but not on the scale that they are doing it this year. He estimated as much as 70 percent of his business is still storm-related.
He expects that to continue, especially as out-of-towners who only recently returned to their second homes are seeing that repairs are not feasible.
“I would guess there are hundreds of homes in Ocean City in that situation,” he said.
Ocean City demolitions, by the numbers
Numbers of housing units in Ocean City demolished this year and last year
January: 12 24
February: 4 9
March: 7 26
April: 6 29
May: 11 33
Total of 2012: 106
Year-to-date 2013: 121
Source: Department of Community Affairs, Ocean City Construction Code department
Municipalities with most demolitions from January through March this year.
1. Toms River Township: 132
2. Union Beach: 109
3. Little Egg Harbor Township: 73
4. Ocean City: 59
5. Stafford Township: 45
6. Brick Township: 42
7. Long Beach Township: 35
8. Manasquan: 29
9. Jersey City: 24
10. Margate City: 21
11. Sea Isle City: 17
12. Point Pleasant Beach: 17
13. Brigantine: 16
14. Avalon: 16
15. Trenton: 15
Source: Department of Community Affairs
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