EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Residents of the Egg Harbor River Campground may have no place to live after Nov. 1, at least during weekdays.
In December, the campground’s year-round residents received copies of a township notice that was sent to the landlord, notifying him he was in violation of a township ordinance by allowing the resort to be occupied by tenants from Nov. 1 through March 1, according to one of the residents, Chris Tomaro.
Neither campground owner Paul St. James, nor his attorney, Lori Greenberg, could be reached for comment.
Tomaro, an IT professional who is the unofficial spokesman for the campground residents, said he and the other residents were told by St. James he would resolve this problem with the township after the initial notice went out in December. However, it has not been settled.
“The township made it clear that everything was fine for the time being, but they would begin enforcing the ordinance Nov. 1. No explanation was given other than to say that Egg Harbor River Campground has never been a year-round facility,” said Tomaro, who has been living in his home a little over a year.
Peter J. Miller, township administrator, said the township’s campground ordinance was passed in the 1970s but was amended in 1994 to permit weekend camping between Nov. 1 and March 1.
About 45 residents live year-round in the resort, some of whom have been there as long as 17 years, Tomaro said.
In New Jersey, campground areas are not allowed to be primary residences, said Joann Del Vescio, executive director of the New Jersey Campground Owners Association. Egg Harbor River Campground is not a member of the association.
The issue of people making campgrounds their primary residences is nothing new. In 2009, Carol Lynn Resorts in Woodbine told residents they had to leave by Nov. 1. State residency rules enacted that year limited stays in campgrounds to six months per year.
“Our campgrounds, that are members of our association, we monitor them very closely to make sure they are following the letter of the law,” Del Vescio said. “You are not allowed to send your children to school from a campground.”
People who live year-round in mobile homes in the campground off Thompson Lane include seven disabled people, six veterans, at least eight seniors, and five children and their parents, Tomaro said.
“Most are low-income and fixed-income individuals. There are working-class professionals. There is even a pastor and his family,” Tomaro said.
At least 25 people, who appeared to be from the campground, attended last week’s Township Committee meeting seeking guidance on the issue.
Part of the resolution of the owner’s guilty plea was to put the residents on notice of what the rules of the campground are, Miller said. After St. James pleaded guilty and paid a fine of at least $10,000, the notice was sent out to his tenants.
Within the past 30 days, the township has been made aware by the residents of their concern about their living situation after Nov. 1, Miller said.
“We are the collateral damage. There is an apparent war,” said Tomaro about the dispute between the township and St. James. “The only reason we are here is we were told we could live here. This is a starter house for us.”
Tomaro and his girlfriend, Jessica Pivariunas, 34, checked reputable real estate sites before deciding to live at Egg Harbor River Campground.
“We were told that this was a year-round facility,” Tomaro said.
Some people in the campground have seasonal leases, but Tomaro said he and many others have extended agreements that say they can stay in their homes whenever they like.
During the course of the Township Committee meeting, Marc Friedman, the township attorney, told the committee and Miller to refrain from making any public comments about the merits of the matter because litigation had been threatened, Miller said.
Tomaro said his group was told the only way they could talk to the Township Committee was if they hired a lawyer.
“If we could afford a lawyer, we could afford to leave here,” said Tomaro, who added the homeowners have reached out to other politicians besides the Township Committee. “Everyone here is of different income levels, but it is all low. ... We need help. It’s that simple.”