Belmar Looks to Ease Rebuilding Rules for Fire-Destroyed Homes, Bolster Fire Prevention Standards

In the aftermath of an April fire that ravaged two 10th Avenue homes, Belmar is considering allowing the construction of “nonconforming” structures destroyed by fire to their original state. Credits: Cathy Goetz

BELMAR, NJ — As a town that dates back to 1872, Belmar's housing stock is an eclectic mix of old and new. Its streets are lined with homes of varying styles and sizes — from beach bungalows to seashore colonials — and some built as far back as 100 years ago or more.

During those unfortunate times when fire destroys particularly an older home, not only must these homeowners rebuild, but they also must comply with current zoning laws or seek zoning variances. This could delay construction and even make it impossible for them to rebuild their homes as they once were.

Looking to eliminate that additional hardship, the borough council has introduced an ordinance that would permit property owners with “nonconforming” structures destroyed by fire to rebuild their homes to their original state.

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The measure comes in the aftermath of four house fires that have occurred in less than a year in the borough — one on 14th Avenue that claimed the lives of two adults and their dog in August 2016, another on River Road in July 2016, and the most-recent destroying two century-old homes on 10th  Avenue in April.

The proposed ordinance permits a homeowner to rebuild a home in the exact footprint of where the previous structure had stood, limited to the extent of the “previous nonconformity” — whether that is an undersized lot or a two-family home where only single-family homes are now permitted, for example.

The measure has been adapted from an ordinance approved after Superstorm Sandy for homeowners facing similar circumstances after their dwellings were destroyed by the 2012 storm..

While site plan and/or subdivision approval would not be required for a new dwelling, a development permit would still be needed, according to the proposal. In a companion resolution, the borough council at its May 4 meeting voted to waive all permit fees related to fire damage.

In Other Fire-Related News

The Belmar Borough Council is seeking to strengthen the authority of the Bureau of Fire Protection with these proposed regulations:

  • Borough fire officials must be notified whenever a fire alarm is activated so that an inspection can be made of the fire alarm system.
  • All occurrences of spills or leakages of flammable, combustible or hazardous materials must be reported immediately.
  • When a property is under a “fire watch” due to a fire alarm problem or an actual fire — and on-site fire personnel and equipment are required — the property owner or occupant must obtain a permit that sets fees for such services.
  • There must be a 10-foot minimum clearance to a fire hydrant or connection on public and private streets, access lanes or private property.
  • Fire lanes, as established by borough fire officials, must be at least 18 feet wide for fire and emergency vehicle access. In addition, they must be maintained by property owners following borough requirements.
  • Open burning throughout Belmar is prohibited, except when a permit is obtained.

Violations of these regulations could results in penalties of up to $1,000 and/or up to 90 days in jail, under this ordinance.

Public hearings on both the fire home rebuilding and fire protection ordinances will be held on Wednesday June 7 — followed by final votes by the borough council on these measures.

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