Some of the most visible damage from super storm Sandy was, of course, to oceanfront properties. And most people rightly associate oceanfront properties with relatively wealthy people. But in fact, many of the victims of Sandy were middle, sometimes even lower middle income people, many of whom did not even live that close to the water. Many of these Shore residents did not have flood insurance and if they did, it seems unlikely that there is going to be adequate funds to rebuild.
This is a real shame, because these people are the backbone and spirit of the Jersey Shore. I think we have a social responsibility to help get these folks get back into their homes and neighborhoods, and I also believe that we should try avoid spending public funds if at all possible.
Fortuantely, there are some alternatives that municipalities should consider that can provide relief.
There is a section of the New Jersey redevelopment statute known as Section f, which allows municipalities designate certain areas in need of redevelopment in the event of a natural disaster. Superstorm Sandy certainly meets this criteria. I under stand that redevelopment is a bad word in today's environment, but perhaps the flexibility of a redevelopment zone would be best for everyone concerned. I believe, however, that eminent domain actions should avoided at all costs, and instead redevelopers can be selected to assist existing property owners in the redevelopment of their neighborhood using Incentive Zoning.
Incentive zoning is a relatively new concept, but can be a powerful tool to help these people in need of new homes. The idea is simple: if a property owner has a 50' x 50' lot, under current zoning that property owner can build one single family dwelling, subject to a variety of bulk (size) and yard requirements (front, rear and side yard setbacks, height, etc.). Incentive zoning permits higher densities for larger parcels. So let's say that four neighbors with 50' x 50' lots get together create a 100' x 100' lot, which is equal to 0.23 acres. Under incentive zoning, the permitted density can be increased to say, six townhouses or condominiums, a net gain of two units or 50% higher density. Take it a step further and merge sixteen 50' x 50' lots to create a 200' x 200' parcel. The density can be increased to permit even more units, let's say 32 units total, double the original density.
For the sake of discussion, let us say that each of the 16 single family homes in this scenario would be worth $500,000 each or $8,000,000 total. And let us go further and assume that the 32 condominium units would be worth $400,000 each apiece, or $12,800,000 total. The additional density would allow the property owners to sell off the excess units to fund the construction of their new homes on the Shore.
Will the character of the neighborhoods change? Without question. But I think that ship has already sailed. The face of the Shore is going to change, and change permanently. But the question before us is this: who will the Shore belong to in the future ? Only the wealthy with money for second homes? Or should also do everything we can to keep middle class people here? After all, they have been here for years and are the often the teachers, the first responders, the coaches and the volunteers that make our towns work.
To date, I have seen no ideas brought forward that would assist these property owners that are not simply a payments out of the public coffers. An Incentive Zoning plan as I have outlined here would allow homeowners to remain in their neighborhoods, grow the municipal ratable base and limit the cost to the taxpayers. It is time we got creative and work towards a new and improved Jersey Shore.
- Robert Gagliano, MAI, CRE, FRICS is a Real Estate Consultant and Appraiser and Principal of his own firm, Gagliano & Company, Shrewsbury. He is a lifelong resident of the Jersey Shore.