Manalapan weighs allowing larger beach houses

By Margie Plunkett

Manalapan commissioners bumped up the size of beach houses to 750 square feet in a preliminary vote that compromised between the current allowance and a proposed increase to 1,000 square feet.
An ordinance that encompasses this and other zoning revisions will be the subject of a second public hearing at 9:30 a.m. on May 26. The ordinance also addresses dune walkovers, fire pits, building heights, setbacks and hedge heights, among other concerns.
The beach houses on the ocean side of A1A could grow to 750 square feet from 500 square feet and would be allowed kitchen and bath facilities, but no sleeping area, meant to deter tenancy.
The commissioners considered whether two districts, R1A and R1B, should be treated differently because of the varying lot characteristics. But the only distinction between restrictions ultimately was the size of the deck: R1A was allowed a 500-square-foot attached deck, and R1B a 1,000-square-foot deck. Otherwise, either area was allowed a 35- by 25-foot beach house, or a 1,000-square-foot deck for properties with no beach house. The houses must not be visible from the road and must be screened from the beach. Commissioners pushed the issue back from March’s meeting after hearing from property owners, who argued, among other things, that expanding beach houses will spoil Manalapan’s unique coastal beauty and that beach-house limits were unfair to owners of larger properties. Commissioners decided to walk the beach to look at existing beach houses and properties before rendering a decision. David Rathbun, who represents the Ziff family, argued at the March meeting against allowing the larger beach houses because it detracts from “what’s really special about Manalapan.” Rathbun presented photographs of existing 500-square-foot beach houses and photo illustrations of what 1,000-square-foot facilities would look like. Developers would probably try for a configuration to allow as many windows and doors on the ocean side as possible, with none on the A1A side, he said, noting that could result in a long building that was closed on the roadway side.
Expanding the beach houses will forever change the beach, Rathbun said, adding he thought 600 to 650 square feet would be better.
“This section of Manalapan is a treasure and needs to be preserved,” Ziff family member Jim Stafford said at the April meeting. Town fathers “established that legacy for all of us to enjoy as a community. For people that live here, we can choose to live anywhere. One of the reasons we choose to live here is because it’s so beautiful and pristine.” The family has a large beach home built in 1948 and grandfathered in, although not visible to neighbors or from the road or beach, according to Rathbun.
George Valassis, who is a resident as well as a zoning commissioner, wanted a larger beach house he could entertain from, but told commissioners that the 750-square-foot beach house would do him no good. Ripping down his current 500-square-foot facility to add so little space would be a costly exercise that still wouldn’t accommodate his vision of entertainment.
Valassis said he has more than 100,000 square feet of property on the ocean side and “a pillbox of 500 square feet” for a beach house. “I could build a 20,000-square-foot house and you wouldn’t be able to see it,” Valassis said. He added he has a beautiful ocean property, yet he can’t entertain on the beach side.
“I don’t think it’s fair to someone like me who spent an awful lot of money. I’m crowded [in the beach house] with eight people.”

*The same ordinance includes many additional changes: allowing six-foot-wide dune walkovers, gas or propane fire pits up to eight feet wide and front hedge heights of 8 feet, and adding definitions of green space.

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