TOMS RIVER – Owners of homes designated as “substantially damaged” after superstorm Sandy, forcing them to make costly repairs they argue are unnecessary, could have the opportunity to ask Toms River officials to re-evaluate their cases under a new township ordinance.
The new law, scheduled for a public hearing Feb. 9, allows more than 700 owners of substantially damaged properties to file an appeal to the damage designation. Homes were designated as substantially damaged if the total cost of repairs was considered to be at least 50% of their pre-Sandy market value.
The October 2012 storm is still impacting hundreds of homeowners in Toms River, which suffered more Sandy damage than any other municipality in the state. Watch the video above to see the mayor talk about FEMA loan forgiveness program that saved Toms River millions.
After Sandy, more than 3,500 Toms River properties were designated as substantially damaged. The majority of those homes have been repaired and elevated to meet federal flood-protection standards.
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But more than 700 Sandy-damaged homes do not yet comply with federal flood mandates. Owners of some of those properties believe the houses were improperly designated as having substantial damage.
Some homeowners who completed repairs themselves said they spent far less than half the value of the structure.
The substantial damage designation is important, because substantially damaged structures are required to be elevated or otherwise modified to make them less vulnerable to flooding. Elevating a home can cost $100,000 or more.
Township Engineer Robert J. Chankalian said the new ordinance will reopen the appeal process for such homes, which had been closed by the township some time ago.
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Homeowners interested in appealing their damage designation will be required to pay an initial document review fee of $500. An in-person investigation of their case will cost an additional $350.
Chankalian said an engineer who is a flood plain expert will be assigned to review the substantially damaged homes; the engineer will be chosen from the township’s pool of contracted experts.
A homeowner who is still dissatisfied after the initial review can make a further appeal to the township’s planning board for a $1,750 fee. That amount will cover the costs of a professional review by adjusters, planners, engineers and other professionals, according to the ordinance.
“We are giving the residents three options. A simple review of documents, a sit-down meeting, and an appeal to planning board,” Chankalian said. “We are not putting a time limit on it.”
The township caused a stir in November, when owners of substantially damaged homes were sent a letter from the engineer’s office, saying they would not be able to get rental permits or undertake building projects without bringing their properties into flood compliance.
Following meetings with state officials and representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the township reversed itself last month, with Mayor Maurice B. “Mo” Hill Jr. indicating rental permits will be issued until FEMA completes updated flood maps.
That was a relief to property owners, who said they rely on summer rental income to pay the mortgages on their homes.
Those maps, expected to be completed by 2025, show which properties have a 1% annual flood risk. Owners of substantially damaged homes will not be able to get permits for home improvement projects unless the proposal includes bringing the house into compliance with flood mandates, Chankalian has said.
Several residents who attended recent council meetings said they were blindsided by the township’s letter, noting that supply-chain backups and difficulties in obtaining a contractor would make it almost impossible to complete mitigation projects at their homes within the next few months.
Jean Mikle covers Toms River and several other Ocean County towns, and has been writing about local government and politics at the Jersey Shore for nearly 38 years. She’s also passionate about the Shore’s storied music scene. Contact her: @jeanmikle, [email protected]