BARNEGAT, NJ – When Superstorm Sandy hit the shores near the Barnegat Bay Beach, it destroyed several homes. As a result, some properties like the one located at 361-363 Bay Shore Drive, remain free of any existing structures.

Both lots are on the market for sale. Formally considered Block 201, Lots 21 and 23, the adjacent lots offer combined 100 feet waterfront of footage on the Barnegat Bay.  A prominent view of Old Barney highlights the horizon.

At one time, a home sat on one lot, while evidence that a dock once existed on the other is still there. The asking price for the combined lots has gone down from $159K to $125K since the land was listed for sale in March of this year.

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Coldwell Banker Real Estate Agent Chris Collins says it’s possible to build two homes in the vacant lots. That said, Sandy’s devastation added some new requirements from both local authorities and the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP).

“Prospective buyers will need to do their own due diligence,” said Collins. “However, I think the property has great potential for someone who wants to build there.”

In the meantime, former Barnegat Mayor Bill Neyenhouse, who also retired from the DEP as its Hudson River Waterfront Coordinator, sees the vacant property as another kind of opportunity.  The Barnegat Bay Beach is adjacent to the empty land. Neyenhouse thinks the town should grab the chance to do something as far as extending the recreational offerings.

“We’re already dealing with safety issues as far as the length of the boardwalk surrounding the beach area,” opined Neyenhouse.

While there are steps in the middle of the walking area, wheelchair access is at the other end of it. In the event of an emergency, someone disabled would have to find a way to get to the ramp.

“Heaven forbid there’s a fire, or someone sees a person in a wheelchair as a potential victim,” Neyenhouse said. “They would have no way to get away. If the town bought the property, it could create further access.”

Township Business Administrator Martin Lisella recalled when the Township authorized the structure around the Bay Beach. “It was built in compliance with ADA regulations,” he shared.

Neyenhouse thinks the town should use tax monies collected of Open Space funding and ask for a matching share from the NJ DEP’s Green Acres program to finance acquisition of the lots.

According to the former mayor, the current administration seems more interested in ratables than anything else. Neyenhouse claims both Mayor Al Cirulli and Committeeman Al Billie told him that “ratables are really important.”

At the most recent Township Committee meeting, Lisella said the property could bring in as much as $20K annually in tax revenue to the municipality. Contacted subsequently, he explained his estimation.

“Someone expressed interest in building a million-dollar home by combining the two lots,” shared Lisella. “It doesn’t make sense for the town to lose that kind of revenue.”

As it now stands, the property owner at the location pays over $5K in local taxes. In the year prior to Sandy, local property taxes neared $9K.

“Study after study shows that ratables do not make money for the town,” countered Neyenhouse. “What if the new homeowners have four or five children who go to our schools and we’re paying $21K to educate them?”

If the Township did agree to acquire the land, Neyenhouse sees it as more than an opportunity to make the beach area more accessible.

“I’m not asking that the space be used to extend the beach,” said Neyenhouse. “However, I would like to see it as a place where handicapped and non-handicapped people could actually get to the water’s edge.”

Neyenhouse says the current ramp on the Barnegat Bay Beach doesn’t allow wheelchairs to come anywhere near the water. He’d like to see the additional property as a place for families to gather at picnic tables and enjoy fishing and crabbing.

“We could supply canoe or kayak access, said Neyenhouse. “This would eliminate the impact on the beach and enhance the experience of being on the beachfront of the Barnegat Bay.”

Neyenhouse feels that many towns would love the opportunity to increase open space. “Heaven forbid we lose ratables here,” he remarked.

Meanwhile, the Township Business Administrator provided some additional considerations. “The Open Space tax can be used for other recreational projects such as keeping up fields,” Lisella explained.

The purchase of the parcels is just one part of the concept. According to Lisella, taxpayer dollars would also be necessary for redevelopment of the land. “There’s also the issue of hiring employees if we offered canoes or kayaks.”

Stephanie A. Faughnan is a local journalist and Director of Writefully Inspired, a professional writing and resume service. Feel free to contact her at sfaughnan@tapinto.net.