Problems Persist at Summit/Bay Avenue Subdivision
November 11th, 2010
by Erik Weber
ISLAND HEIGHTS - Visitors getting lost, packages going to the wrong address and a concern for emergency services access were all touched upon by one borough couple who recently constructed a home on a subdivision adjacent Summit Avenue Beach and found that their private access, currently recognized by the borough as a private extension of Bay Avenue, was renamed through the installation of street signs by a nearby property owner who owns the mouth of the access.
Joseph and Kathleen Gunteski, longtime borough residents formerly of River Avenue who purchased the lot and built their home earlier this year at the very end of the long easement, approached the borough council during the November 9th council meeting in an ongoing dispute that has seen the borough attorney, William T. Hiering, draft letters to those property owners at the corner of the borough-owned Bay Avenue and the privately owned easement, Walter Matthew and Colleen Marvin, stating that the signage claiming it to be Marvin Drive must be removed.
The Marvins, speaking from their home in the days following the meeting, see it differently, stating that while their property's easement provides access to the private road that the Gunteskis utilize, the property between Bay Avenue and the private road is still theirs and as long as they pay taxes on it, they can place whatever signage on it they like. They also don't understand how the borough can recognize the street as having any name, as their deed specifically states it is an "unnamed right of way."
The Gunteskis also claim the Marvins have blocked access to the private road numerous times by the storage of boat trailers and parking of cars on the easement. The Marvins dispute the severity of the issue, with Mr. Marvin stating that "if they had ever come to me and asked me to move anything, I would have, but I guess they feel more comfortable complaining to the town council."
Over the course of the past year, other borough residents have also approached the borough council with their own problems regarding the subdivision, its individual properties, and the construction of the Gunteski home.
"All this started years ago when we bought the house," he said. The Marvins purchased and built their home in 1999. "We knew there was an easement when we bought the place, an unnamed right of way, and it specifically says in our deed that it is for the ingress and egress to the properties behind our house."
At that time, John and Hallie Aubin's home, which now sits on the easement directly behind the Marvins, and the Gunteskis' home, which now sits approximately 150 feet farther down the easement, had yet to be built, and Mr. Marvin recalled the property access was used by local residents as an unofficial alternate route to Summit Avenue Beach, something Mr. Marvin said he was fine with until vandalism began to occur on his property and vehicles a few years later.
As a result, the Marvins installed a security camera and the signposts.
"You'd have gangs of kids [using the access], and then my dingy got a hole poked in it by somebody with a knife, and they kicked one of my vehicles, and I got a window broken on one of my cars," said Mr. Marvin. "Quite frankly, I got mad and I put [the] camera out there, and now I record all the vehicles going up and down the easement."
"We put [the sign posts] out and if you notice the front, it says private, on the part that would have been named Bay Avenue, to discourage people from coming up there," said Mrs. Marvin.
Al Gabriel, a borough councilman who is also a lifetime member and past chief of the Island Heights Volunteer Fire Company, referred to fire safety when he spoke out against the personal signage at the governing body's June 10th meeting.
"We've got one person who keeps changing street names," he said. "If there's an emergency call for a fire, you're going to have one hell of a problem finding the streets."
Adrian Fanning, then the chief financial officer and administrator for the borough, said the easement "is not ours - it belongs to those individuals off Bay Avenue, and I'd ask the attorney to write a letter but I believe it's something that needs to be handled amongst themselves."
Still, he added that he "agrees the signs should be removed."
Following their discussion, Mayor Jim Biggs asked Thomas G. Gannon, an attorney with the borough-appointed Toms River law firm of Hiering, Gannon and McKenna, to "research and properly execute a letter to satisfy the problem."
Mrs. Aubin, speaking at the July 13th borough council meeting, stated that she also had encountered problems with the Marvin Drive sign posts, stating that "people don't know where we are - we have to identify ourselves as being between 130 and 131 on Bay Avenue."
Delivery trucks, she said, don't know where Marvin Drive is, as it doesn't officially show up on any maps or global positioning systems.
Speaking on the issue last month in front of her home, Mrs. Aubin said that the delivery drivers will now no longer drive the vehicles down the easement, and instead must walk the packages to her door after parking on Bay Avenue, because "now that they know it's not an approved road, there's no insurance so if they damage their equipment down here it's the drivers responsibility."
This is a persistent problem, she added, because she and her husband get regular deliveries due to the daily operations of their environmental services businesses - the Barnegat Bay Shellfish Company and Connelly Environmental, Inc. - which they run from their home.
Mr. Marvin disputed the issue.
"In all the platts that I can see that approved the subdivision, there's no name on it at all," he said, showing a map of the property that labeled the access an "Unnamed Right of Way (for use by all owners)." "I don't understand how all of a sudden it's an extension of Bay Avenue."
"First off, this is private property - I pay taxes on it. I've got markers out there to show where my private property is," Mr. Marvin continued. "As long as I'm paying taxes on this property, I would have a really hard time with them naming it Bay Avenue. I mean, it's not a town road, and if they want to name it a town road, then they're going to have to do a taking, pay me for this, create a nonconforming lot and deal with all the fallout from it."
At last month's meeting, Mr. Gunteski cited a recent problem he had trying to access the easement on his way home.
"There were two cars parked right next to each other," he said. "You couldn't get a bike through - I had to call the police so I could get home."
"It's a hazard," said Mrs. Gunteski, who stated that her daughter had recently almost encountered a head-on collision there as a result and asked if the borough could begin towing the vehicles away.
"We never attempted to encumber access," Mr. Marvin continued, noting that "hundreds of construction trucks have come in and out of that easement, they dumped hundreds of loads of fill dirt out there, and they managed to build the house okay, so I really can't understand that they can claim they don't have access out there."
The Friday before, he noted, "they had at least eight cars parked out there, blocking the emergency easement, and two more cars parked at Summit Avenue Beach, which they seem to use as their personal parking lot and access way when it suits them."
Mrs. Aubin backed up Mr. Marvin's statement as to the parking situation of the previous Friday.
At the October 11th meeting of the borough council, resident Don Williams asked for an update regarding what he said was a "legal driveway" that exists between the Gunteskis' home and the Summit Avenue Beach parking lot.
"They're not using that," said Mr. Gabriel. "It's chained off by the Gunteskis, and they are using the back way."
"Why is there a driveway between that property and the town parking lot?" asked Mr. Williams.
"That's always been there - it was a fire access," replied Mr. Gabriel. "If there's a house fire back there we can get a firetruck down there."
Councilman John Bendel remarked that the fence present at the site "is not a borough fence, and is not on our property."
"They could take the whole fence down if they want to," said Councilman Brian Taboada.
Mrs. Gunteski, speaking at last month's meeting, noted that Mr. Marvin began storing boat trailers "in the middle" of the easement that they regularly use for access to their home as the off-season approached, and requested that borough police begin towing his vehicles.
Mr. Hiering stated that it was a private matter between the neighbors and it did not involve the borough.
"It's not the borough's property - I don't understand how the borough could get into this with them," said Mr. Taboada. "I hate to say it but I think you're going to have to get a lawyer."
He asked if the Gunteskis ever considered "putting a fence up there."
"He can take it down - he's very aggressive," replied Mrs. Gunteski.
Mr. Gunteski inquired whether the borough could take the road as its own.
"From what I understand there was no bond posted, and the road was not done to standard," replied Mr. Hiering.
When asked by members of the governing body for his take on the situation, Island Heights Police Lt. Kevin C. Arnold replied, "it's a nightmare."
In attendance at the November 23rd borough council meeting was Mr. Marvin, who, during privilege of the floor, stated that there was "so much discussion about the easement and access that I thought I would come and see if there was any news for me."
"I see noone was here to speak about it tonight," he added.
"I don't think today," replied Mayor Biggs. "We will keep you informed.
Problems arose even before the Gunteskis moved into their new home across from Summit Avenue Beach, with at least one resident up in arms earlier this year as he began to see it built.
At the March 23rd borough council meeting, Ocean Avenue resident Paul John "P.J." Smith remarked that the character of the town was "completely destroyed by the monster being built" across from the beach.
"It's such a beautiful spot and it's taking away its privacy and character," he said, calling it "some rich person's summer home overhanging a jewel of a park."
"That should have been buffered off and untouched for history," Mr. Smith added. "It's very short-sighted and a disgrace [that] someone allowed it to be built."
"It's a disaster to Summit Beach," he continued, questioning as to what borough residents would want to sunbathe there if they could be watched from the windows of the new home. "There are 200 to 300 people there on bonfire night, and you know those people are going to complain about Port-O-Johns, the crabbers, the bonfire - it's a disaster and it should never have been allowed."
"I went down there the other day and choked up," the Ocean Avenue resident stated.
Two months earlier, in January, while requesting aid from the borough council to allow construction vehicle access onto the Summit Avenue Beach parking lot, Mrs. Gunteski had also requested that portable bathrooms present at the beach be moved elsewhere, stating that they "created an unpleasant breeze across the lawn."
While numerous members of the governing body have stated over the course of the past year that the subdivision at the Summit/Bay Avenue tract should originally not have been approved by the borough planning board, they have also been quick to defend the property owners now mired in its problems, most pointedly when Mr. Taboada stated during the October 11th meeting that regardless any public opinion of the Gunteskis' new home, "there is nothing illegal about what they've done."
The next meeting of the Island Heights Borough Council will be on Tuesday, December 7th at 7 pm in borough hall.