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Three Months After Sandy, Camp Osborn Residents Wondering What's Next

Joyful memories shared of years gone by

Next to the images of the Seaside Heights roller coaster and the Mantoloking breach, one of the iconic images of Superstorm Sandy was more than 60 homes burning to the ground in Brick Township.

That neighborhood – which many describe as one of the last vestiges of middle class living near the Jersey Shore oceanfront – fell victim to natural gas fires during the storm. Due to the breach in Mantoloking, which formed an inlet at the base of the Mantoloking Bridge, firefighters could not reach the township's barrier island section to fight it.

"Seeing a fire and not being able to do anything about it, that's so tough," said Council President Bob Moore, himself a volunteer firefighter, after the storm.

Three months later, what's left of the burnt-out homes are still there, now fenced off from Route 35, where traffic has returned and things are slowly getting back to normal.

"In my 61 years in the Camp Osborn area, we had a feeling of our own 'small town' element to it," said Betty Ann Fuller, a year-round resident of the neighborhood. "We had the bread man, milk man, balloon man - you name it, we never had to leave our street. And we walked to church in Normandy Beach."

Before she evacuated the neighborhood the day before Sandy hit, Fuller turned her home security camera to face Route 35 so she could keep track of flooding remotely on her smartphone. For the most part, she said, things looked okay. But then the camera feed went blank.

"As a full time resident, I lost everything, literally everything," she said.

The neighborhood's unique nature could pose issues in rebuilding. The land is divided between three entities: residents of the Osborn Sea-Bay Condominium Association, residents of the Camp Osborn Condominium Association and a land-lease section owned by an individual, Bob Osborn, a descendant of the family for which the neighborhood is named.

Residents of the two associations own the land on which their houses stood, while residents of the latter section lease their land from Osborn.

In a world of new flood standards, building codes and elevation requirements, it has become clearer and clearer to residents that the mix of 1950s bungalows and rebuilt – but grandfathered-in – year-round homes probably would not be able to be reconstructed as it was.

That has left residents not only dealing with rebuilding their homes – but an entire community, from scratch.

"Most of the residents think it's the responsibility of the town to tell us what to do, but the town has been very receptive to us, and asking us about our ideas," said Matt Presutti, who serves on the Osborn Sea-Bay board.

Presutti said he has met with township officials, including Township Planner Mike Fowler and Assistant Planner Tara Paxton.

"The message, to some extent, was to stop thinking about it in terms of blocks. We have to think of it as sort of a blank slate."

But before the "slate" can even be blank, the debris from all of the neighborhood's homes must be removed. For that task, the township will most likely take charge due to the unique safety hazards in play. Residents are waiting for the township council to pass a resolution that will allow the municipal government to go on private property.

The expenditure to raze what's left of the neighborhood will be covered under FEMA reimbursements, township officials have said.

In the absence of the option of rebuilding the neighborhood as it was, residents need to come together and examine the possibilities available, said Presutti.

Townhomes are an idea, for example, but some residents may resist giving up their own small houses.

"I don't think anybody really wants an Ocean Club clone, but at the same time, it's going to be awfully hard," said Presutti. "You can't get 6 people in a room to agree, so how are you going to get 60 to agree?"

"It may take an extra season because people may have to compromise on what their hopes and dreams are," he said. "To build consensus, you start small."

Meghan Presutti, Matt's wife, said several members of her family owned homes in the community. Brick officials have allowed homeowners to access their properties at certain times, which has been "therapeutic," she said.

Amongst the wreckage was the small red wagon in which her children used to ride around.

"There were a lot of small miracles that happened," she said. ""It's hard, because it was so great; so many multi-generational families were here."

"Brick has been great," said Meghan Presutti, who complimented members of the township administration for the time they've spend helping residents. "They want to have open dialogue with us and communicate with us."

Fuller, who's moved multiple times since the storm struck, wants to get home eventually – but she also wants to remember her long-time neighborhood as it always was.

"I'm sure there is a lot of PTSD and sadness in the neighborhood," she said. "I wish it would all go back in time to the happier times, bringing that cup of coffee to the dune and watching the water, watching the fishermen or surfers, and simply smelling the fresh salt air."

But then, there are things that are even more important.

"We should be grateful that none of us were injured," said Fuller. "It made me happy one day at a coffee shop to pay for the coffee of a state trooper who was in line behind me. It was the least I could do."

Freddy February 03, 2013 at 01:43 AM
This is so horrible. After all the years of going down the shore it hurts to see landmarks and neighborhoods gone let along the sadness of the families that lost it all. Amazingly enough after all my time spent at the ocean club this past year was the year I played volley ball at camp osbornes beach court every day during the round robin tournaments. I will miss seeing all of the great people and families I met this past year. hang in there and know that we all be waiting to see you on the beach again. You know your a beach family when your 6 year old son cries while watching what happened from the storm on the news during the days following the storm. I asked him if he was ok and he said no all my memories are gone. I think we all just need to get down the shore this summer and put our money into the businesses so that it truly has its best shot at surviving this first new summer.
Don Smith February 05, 2013 at 06:20 AM
A you know we had a big dune and while the fire burned us the hardening of the ocean face of the Thunderbird contributed to the demise of our dunes. Do you know when the put the bulkhead in front of your place and who authorized it?
Sue March 09, 2013 at 01:15 PM
Erroneous flood zone maps, overkill house-raising mandates and exorbitant annual insurance costs... FEMA wants NJ to bail it out of its Katrina debt! Join our fight -- come to a 1-hour meeting Sat. March 9th, 3 PM, at Silverton First Aid Squad, 86 Maine St., Toms River (all towns welcome). Info at StopFemaNow.com and Facebook.com/StopFemaNow. Save our Shore Communities!
Martin March 11, 2013 at 09:47 PM
200+ people attended our meeting! Our protest movement is growing! Get up to speed about what FEMA is doing to your property value. Pay $50,000 to $150,000 to raise your house, or pay up to $30,000 a year for flood insurance... That's the choice FEMA gives you if you're in its expanding flood zones. It's based on erroneous "advisory" maps. Approx. 20% of US is impacted by FEMA's onerous new mandates. The 2012 Biggert-Waters Act must be corrected by Congress -- or tens of thousands of NJ homes will be abandoned or foreclosed upon because of FEMA's unaffordable "over-kill" requirements. Information is at Facebook.com/StopFemaNow. "Like" us to get updates.
Don Smith March 13, 2013 at 07:11 AM
Everyone needs to appeal property values along the coast. Sandy has taken structure values to zero and that is given but the land it's self is not worth what is once was worth. Tax man needs to come clean on this issue.


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