Long Beach Island — Election Day, Nov. 5, marked 2,563 days since Long Beach Island residents and homeowners forced to evacuate ahead of Superstorm Sandy were allowed back on the barrier island for the first time after the storm unleashed a wrath of destruction that made it the most lethal and catastrophic hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season. While traffic on the Garden State Parkway south leading to Exit 63 looked like any summer Saturday traffic on Nov. 5, 2012, it felt different.
In the seven years and seven days since Sandy made landfall just before 8 p.m. in Atlantic City, it doesn’t just feel different on the Island; it looks different, too. Aesthetics have changed drastically after a state mandate for higher dunes was issued. Traditional Cape Cod homes that once were as common to the landscape of the Island as the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the bay to the west have been replaced, in some instances, by new construction of larger homes.
“You’re not going to see it as much, if at all, in the suburbs,” said Jay Madden, an architect based in Harvey Cedars. “Even in Ocean City or Cape May, it’s not the same. It’s more unique to LBI; I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because the Island was so wiped out after the 1962 storm and there was the building moratorium on the north end until the 1980s.”
Still, few can dispute that changes to rebuilding and flood insurance following Sandy play at least part of a role in the onslaught of tear-downs on the Island. Prior to Sandy, Beach Haven saw about four, maybe five, new construction projects a year instead of renovations. As of Election Day, the borough had 15 new construction projects this year alone.
“Economically, it’s more feasible to build from scratch,” said Scott Peraria, a builder based in Ship Bottom.
Post-Sandy, a Cape Cod-style home assessed at $100,000 and needing more than half of the value, so $50,000, of renovation work, would need to be raised. Toss in bringing electric and plumbing up to code and the costs of renovations to building new are almost identical, give or take.
“It’s remarkably inexpensive to tear down,” Madden said this week, adding, “There are a minefield of codes (for renovations). It’s almost too easy to tear down. It’s amazing how whole neighborhoods (of Cape Cod-style homes) have disappeared.”
Back before demolition became the norm, Madden and other architects who work on the Island developed a sort of a prototype for what he termed “the new Cape Cod.”
“It was very formulaic,” he said. “Reverse living, three bedrooms on the first floor, master and kitchen area upstairs.”
He said in some ways those plans for a typical 50- by 100-foot lot on the Island was easier for the architects.
“A blank piece of paper and a client’s wish list can be deadly,” Madden said.
Like the tides, though, housing and architecture on the Island have changed over the years, even before Sandy wreaked havoc.
“I’ve torn down some nice-looking homes,” Peraria said. “People want to build their dream home.”
At least some of those homes, Peraria and Madden agree, are from the late 1970s, the 1980s and even the early 1990s.
“It all comes down the value of the land,” Peraria said.
Most of the homes being demolished are the Cape Cod-style that dominated the housing landscape on the Island. In their place, homes the size of small apartment buildings in midsize cities are being built. They come with beautiful, even masterful landscaping and every amenity possible.
“The scale has changed,” Madden said, adding about half of every project his office handles is a tear-down. “It’s about extended families, fire pits, hot tubs. It’s a different reality and way of thinking.”
Whether the cultural shift, as Madden called it, would have come to Long Beach Island without the impact of Sandy can only be speculated. What is known, though, is that the shift is here and the feeling of it is urban, he said.
“It’s hip – not our folk’s idea of going to the beach, that’s for sure.”
One Man’s Trash. If there is a positive element of so much demolition still going on seven years after Sandy, it’s the uptick in demolition sales. Cabinets, appliances, woodwork, even cleaning supplies aren’t being left to rot in a landfill.
“Everything is for sale; furniture, appliances, dishes, china,” said Jay Zimmermann of Jersey Shore Estate Sales. “There’s always been a lot of tear-downs,” but people didn’t always care about what happened to the contents they no longer wanted.
Now, Zimmermann routinely receives a phone call about a demolition sale, and that sets his process in motion. The first thing is to take an inventory of what’s in the house and determine whether it’s salvageable, who wants it, or if it’s going to be sold. The contents often determine the length of a sale. If there are a lot of things being sold, a demolition sale can go from Thursday through Sunday, he said. A smaller sale is likely to run Friday through Sunday.
“People want the opportunity to earn some extra cash,” he said, noting about three or four years ago, his crew found a ship’s clock that was worth between $5,000 and $10,000. The owner had no idea. “Long Beach Island is a unique area. Half the time we’re working with multi-million-dollar homes and the other half (small) cottages.”
— Gina G. Scala