So you really wanted a Highlands Town Meeting?


Drinking Game Alert: we all should have brought flasks or cocktails and drank every time Mayor Nolan said “Solutions Center” – it would have made the whole meeting a lot more tolerable.

Updates:

Highlands is 20 million in the hole & just from people requesting their houses to be reassessed, it doesn’t include people walking away from their homes. No numbers on how many people are planning, although we *should* know how many people haven’t paid taxes since the storm. I think we all know people who have or are planning to walk, or neighbors who just disappeared and haven’t been back.  Also, were we are we in the process with the re-assessments?  According to Mayor Nolan, ask the Tax guy who is in the trailers next to the Fire House. (I know you thought he was going to say Solution Center, but there were many other instances)

The Solution Center is OPEN. 19 Bay Ave (next to Chubby Pickle) it is also the construction office, permits, advice on lifting and all other information. Here’s my issue, IF I go back there for a 3rd time and ask a question just to be told “I don’t know” from one of the nice ladies we now have working there, I think I might snap and make them want to quit or cry. I mean really, their only qualifications seemed to be that they are local. I really don’t give a rats ass if they are local, I just want them to be knowledgeable. Maybe it would have been better to hire some people from New Orleans that actually went through this. ~ Case in point on the newly posted Solution Center FB Page, announcing the packet for the Hope for Highlands Imagemonies have been sent out. If you are going to *as the Highlands Solution Center” post that, you damn well better know some basic information about it. But typical Highlands not being to answer, says “I don’t know a contact go to the HighlandsNJ site” – which doesn’t actually have ANY contact information on it. (besides the DONATE button).  No Email, No telephone numbers, (side note Google Voice is free), not even a form email.

The Best is, during the Q&A section of the meeting, when asked about the process of the Hope for Highlands funds distribution, Mayor Nolan answers “Its distributed on a case by case basis” and “You can get more information from the – wait for it – from the solution center” (DRINK UP PEOPLE)

Regarding the Back filling of Highlands, It didn’t seem to be a serious consideration. Mayor Nolan didn’t like the Army Core of Engineer’s idea of a 14 ft wall around the town and wanted to challenge them to think of *other* ideas.  So basically we have no new viable ideas on how to mitigate flooding in Highlands.  (Heavy Sigh) I’ve lived here going on 11 years and its been a topic of conversation since I’ve lived here, it’s been an issue for generations. Not figuring out a game plan in an expedited time frame is not an option. Its like we all know its an issue but we have no idea what to do so we do nothing. If this is over your pay grade than defer to other smart people who can make the decisions for you.

Councilman Francy went on and on about the importance of getting permits. That if permits are not gotten that C/O’s will not be given. And lifting your house will be a requirement for C/O for non-resident homes (rental properties). — Oh this is after the T&M guy said the process for the grants for potential reimbursement from FEMA may take YEARS and he’s still trying to get the 10 houses approved during Irene paid. So Highlands, you’re expecting that anyone that owns a rental property to raise those homes before re-issuing their c/o for renters. Way to cut the tax base 40%in addition to the existing 20 million dollar deficit. So 40% of damaged houses are rentals, of those 40% that have renters a high percentage of those renters live and work in town, if you are going to force a raise in that 40% of homes before a C/O is given, it will force people to walk from those homes, leave renters homeless and most of the town vacant. Really are you that stupid? First of all I don’t think you can hold the rental properties to a different standard than the owner occupied homes. Meaning the owner occupied homes have 4 years to raise them. Requiring rental properties to be raised FIRST, would be committing financial suicide as a town. Why would you do something so inane? If they put their homes back in order, they can in turn offer homes IN TOWN that people can move back to and continue to pay ratables.

Also during the Q&A, it was aske regarding the ICC, how is the *value* of the house determined? Meaning is it “Tax Assessed Value” “Market Value – like what you see on Zillow or got for a Refi”, or “Replacement Value” – those of you who have gotten your check & proof of loss from your insurance company, will recognize that the insurance company determines your property value from the “replacement value”.  Mayor Nolan referred the question to Dale from T&M. Who said (and I quote) “Its the structure”  and preceded to walk away from the podium. Huh?? So either he doesn’t know or he’s being evasive do to the fact if people realized that its based on say the market value and say your insurance company deems the damage to be less of 50% of that value i.e. your home is valued on zillow or by a HVE at $170k and you got a check for $40k from insurance, $40k isn’t 50% of 170k, add in you hadn’t flooded before Sandy for a minimum of 10 years – YOU DON’T HAVE TO RAISE YOUR HOUSE.

All in all, I walked out of there with a bigger headache than I did when I was working in my mold ridden house pulling out drywall.

27 comments

  1. Yes, a drinking game might have made that meeting make sense. I think I walked out of there with more questions than answers, especially about the “substantially damaged” part. The thing with Zillow or a refi figure is that their estimate also includes the land, but the estimate of 50% is based on the structure only.

    Did you know that the people who are waiting for their Irene lifting grants were not allowed to raise their houses before getting the grants? So they probably got flooded again with Sandy. One would hope that they’ll have the process down a little bit better for this round, but I’m not holding my breath.

    And I’m still baffled about how we are considered a V zone, especially after hearing several times during the meeting that we flood FROM Bay Avenue. Parts of Sea Bright (where the waves washed over the seawall) are not V zones, yet we are? We (fortunately) weren’t hit like Union Beach, where houses are just gone, so I don’t understand how they didn’t take into account the protective (thank God) nature of the hook. I get too that they want to rezone Bay Ave to an AE zone for the business’ sake, but doesn’t that screw the rest of the residents?

    I think I’ll head down to the Solutions Center later today. I need to pick up my permits and have more of my questions not answered.

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    • and fortunately, the Solutions Center is next to the Chubby Pickle so you don’t have to walk far to get a drink! Good luck 🙂

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    • i’ve been to the Solutions Center and don’t envy the people who work there. i talked to a few people who live in town and everyone’s situation is different. insured vs. not insured. not insured wih no prior FEMA claim vs. not insured first FEMA claim. underinsured. behind in mortgage payments. in foreclosure. no money. makes too much money but nothing saved and poor credit and/or unemployed. the situations are endless and i truly feel for everone. there needs to be a path towards a solution.

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    • I know, isn’t it crazy we actually expect solutions from the solution center.. I don’t envy them (the workers) either, I think they are going to be way over their head, not be able to answer questions or get answers then bear the brunt of residents frustrations.

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    • Where do I start?

      Almost $400 of permits (not even going to try and argue that one with Paul this time). I will say, he finally has help, and things seem to be moving more quickly. As much as I loathe having to pay for these, I am trying to see that they want things done right (this works better some days than others). BTW, if you need inspections, just email Paul. He’s really great about responding almost instantly and setting them up.

      Speaking with Dale, our flood plain something or other, was just a clusterf>ck. Seriously, what are this guy’s qualifications? I heard him tell the guy before me that ICC meant something other than Increased Cost of Compliance (I forgot what though). The variance thing is seriously going to be an issue. Like most people in my part of town, I’m about 10 feet away from my neighbors on both sides, with 5 of that being “my” space. So I somehow need to leave 3 feet on each side, yet still create egress to the front door without blocking the front, so I can park under the house. His suggestion? PUT A DOOR FROM THE PARKING UP THROUGH THE MIDDLE OF MY HOUSE. WTF is up with that? Like the house isn’t small enough as it is, and I just put new freaking floors in. Mind you, this “variance” seems to exist quite nicely on townhouses (with 0 clearance between units) and in the bungalow colonies. So I will fight that one, and hard, when it comes to lifting the beast.

      Speaking of variances, someone in another post mentioned people looking at 3-lot parcels for townhouses. Is this rumor or really the case? I’ll be really interested to see how they slide through rezoning and variances for that, while cockblocking our attempts to rebuild what we have in any sort of reasonable form.

      Despite the above rant, it is worth going to speak with Dale just to find out what your approximate elevation is already, without hiring the survey guys quite yet. He has a map of the town and can tell you based on where you are. Turns out my base elevation is around 6 feet and I’m already another 5 feet above that now. So the lifting might only be another 4-5 feet or so. Not great, but also not turning my house into a 5th floor walkup like I had in the city.

      Also, in terms of FEMA grants for lifting, he estimates that we are about 2 years out on the process. While it sounds like they’ll pretty much pay the balance after the ICC money, I don’t know that I want to risk going through two hurricane seasons without raising (and depending on insurance rates), based on his statement that you can’t raise until the grant is approved. That’s something we all need to fight for this time around.

      The ladies weren’t doing much of anything that I could tell, except for the one working with Paul and the permits. I’m glad we could get a grant for that so quickly (insert sarcasm here).

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  2. You seem surprised that the Solutions Center is staffed by people who’s only qualifications are they are “local?” Are you new in town yourself? And by “new” in town I mean you’ve been living in town less than 50 years?

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    • Hi Jen, if your house was raised another 4 to 5 feet, would it have mattered? Basically, how much water did you have? My mom’s house had about 2 foot of water and since she’s close to 70 years young, she sure doesn’t want a 5 story walk up either. Good luck on your rebuild.

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  3. Thanks for the update on the meeting last night and the drinking game alert (makes you think the town got it right in by having the Solutions Center next to a bar). Seriously though…how is substantially damaged calculated? The assessed values of buildings and land vary from town to town (as do the rate per $100 assessed). A 1,000 square foot home may or may not have the same tax bill in Highlands as it does in say Port Monmouth. A 1,000 sq ft home may be assessed for $80,000 in Highlands and be higher or lower in Port Monmouth, lets just say it’s assessed at $100,000. 50% in Highlands would be substantially damaged at $40,001 and in Port Monmouth at $50,001. And if the rate in Port Monmouth is lower than Highlands, you could actually pay more in taxes on a $80,000 structure in Highlands than a $100,000 in Port Monmouth. Yikes – this is a mess. And it makes no sense to hold absentee owners to a different set of rules.

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    • April, I had about 2.5 feet of water in my house, so that extra 4-5 feet would have helped.

      Really, raising it depends on a few things, annual flood insurance premiums being one of them.

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    • Thanks Jen. My mom’s house got about the same amount too about 2.5 feet. I will check with Dale to see how high her house needs to be lifted. On a sadder note, the estimate to raise her 750 sq ft home without elevation certs, survey, utility disconnect, permits, blah, blah came in at $49,000! She already got her flood renewal (what she is insuring at this point is beyond me) and if it did go up, it was just a couple of bucks.

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  4. Thanks for Update HB…. Mayor Nolan says he wants investment but then make decisions that hurt investment along with the people who have invested in town for years. I think we have right to know exactly what Army corp recommended. I doubt just just higher seawalls…I’m sure they suggested more than that sound like Nolan upset that Corp realizes that their are simpler methods that already exist like I’ve mentioned before smaller version of what they did in New Orleans. He just wants to be on TV again for his “Out of Box” ideas:) Who are these T & M people answering question about what out homes are worth? Aren’t they engineering firm that is supposed to help infrastructure and mitigation measures. I hope they don’t get a dime as they deserve nothing for the nothing they have done for town !! I honestly don’t feel sorry for anybody but us!

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  5. I got the impression that our local elected officials are simply overwhelmed – just like the insurance adjusters, the building inspector and many of the residents. In defense of the town officials: they serve in these jobs for nominal pay in addition to what they actually do for a living. Plus most of them are rebuilding their own houses, have displaced families of their own, and as we all know dealing with insurance, construction, etc. is a full-time job in of itself. As lobbyists dealing with FEMA, insurance companies, grantsmaking, etc. they are amateurs – well-intentioned as I believe they are. Perhaps we need a lobbyist to advocate for the town full-time in Trenton and Washington DC. Maybe we need to charter a bus and take trip to Washington and beat on some doors. So far the Congress and Senate have acted like jerks; somebody needs to shame the SOBs into doing the right thing. Assuming they capable of shame.

    As I remember it the proposed drainage improvements for the “downtown” were to cost $3.8 million; somebody got the vapors over floating a bond issue over that and it never happened. Looks like a cheap project today doesn’t it? What has happened in two years that made all those engineering studies and plans irrelevant? I would to have heard something about that at these meetings.

    I would like to see the Army Corps of Engineers present what their plans for the town actually are – without filtering from anyone else – and allow the residents to make an informed opinion about the town’s future by referendum. Bulkheading enhancements and drainage improvements would likely improve the town’s response to our normal problem – nor’easters – and better protect us from storms like Sandy – an event of questionable repeatability in my lifetime. AND – I’ll volunteer an overhead projector instead of those lame easels!

    I am not interested in attending another town meeting to hear another rehash of the FEMA/SBA process. If you haven’t filed your FEMA, flood insruance claim and SBA application by now you are pretty much a dumbass. I want a report on some action being taken on things we CAN do NOW. The town needs to force the landowner to clear out the trailer park by Popamora Point sooner than later. It’s disgusting and will soon be a home to vermin. The houses nobody mucked out by this time should be razed and the land seized through eminent domain and auctioned off to someone who build a site-appropriate home on it. I believe someone will do just that. Use it or lose it. If you are mucked out and waiting for insurance settlements or contractors – fine. If you haven’t done anything in four months…. We have had too many derelict houses malingering in this town for way too long even before the storm. We’re better off with unimproved lots for a while instead of a collection of mold/rat-infested derelict buildings making the rest of us get sick, which is exactly what will happen when the weather warms up.

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  6. I asked them if the only people entitled to ask for money are people in the flood zone or is the money for ANYONE in town who had damage. If someone spent 5K having trees that fell in their yard from the storm why shouldn’t they be entitled to some reimbursement?
    Let’s hope they get that charity “mission statement” sorted soon so everyone will know who is entitled. Do we even know if a tenant is entitled to reimbursement too? What if they lost everything but have no home in Highlands anymore?

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    • Well the grant at hand is just for “materials & equipment..NOT labor. – or so it states. Personally IMHO you really expecting and asking out loud if your tree damage will be considered when you sustained no flood damage at all and live on the hill is a little out of line. The fact that someone has to explain it to you on why it might be out of line is really sad.

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  7. Sorry, I was unclear. I was the one who asked on the facebook page that led to that generic response directing people to the website. I was not at the meeting.

    If the only people who are entitled to this charities money are people who were flooded by the storm water than the mission for the charity should state as such. If the charity exists to help everyone in Highlands than that is what it should be, anyone who had damage is entitled to money. People like me who live up in the hill are going to wind up “spending” a lot of money….ours is just in the form of taxes, yours is in the form of rebuilding your home. You were the one who bought a home in a flood plain so you did so knowing this day might come and now that it has, everyone, myself included in town has done as much as we can to help anyone who needs it. Don’t turn this into a “poor us vs the “rich folks” up the hill because I’m sure as hell a lot less wealthy than most of you.

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    • Unless I am totally missing something, it doesn’t appear to me that anyone is turning this into a “poor us vs the ‘rich folks’ up on the hill”. I think the priority is getting people back into their homes that were damaged by the storm – primarily from flooding. These people are tax payers too however if they can’t rebuild their structure, the Boro will need to re-assess for a vacant lot. So, the best course of action IMHO is to help get these folks back in their homes ASAP. And while some people may say tough noogies to you for buying a home in a flood plain, I think some may say tough noogies to you for buying a home surrounded by trees because some day the trees might come down too! I hope no one was injured and your home wasn’t damaged. I do hope that there’s money made available to everyone because no one likes to be out thousands of dollars in unexpected expenses.

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  8. Okay few comments here…. I understand that its overwhelming for everybody but we need elected officials that can take control and disseminate correct information as that is what their job is no matter how much they get paid. When i’m at work and overwhelmed I’m expected to go above and beyond and get it done. They didn’t even try to prepare whether it been a Nor’easter, hurricane or superstorm. I called 4 days before storm begging them to clean out storm drains as they were packed with leaves within a 3 block radius. I’m not saying it would have changed strength of storm but could of helped even if in slightest…its storm preparedness 101. Day before storm I get a robocall for 3 sandbags…you kidding? 3 sandbags day before a direct hit mother of all storms. I’m sorry but these people need to get it together and maybe the $$$$ they spent for contracting T & M associates should have been used for something like lobbying but it boggles my mind that ideas like that doesn’t even dawn on them to do. I think its sad and disgraceful and another example of elected officials failing their constitutes.
    As for the tree thing….if they fell on your home I would be more sympathetic but in your yard? I feel lucky compared to people in Breezy whose homes burned down or Union beach where homes obliterated that our home is still standing and can rebuild. Seriously trees in your yard …maybe try to think about people less fortunate than you. You are sitting in a safe home every night consider yourself lucky. Has nothing to do with hill envy just common compassion.

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    • rockemSockem & April – TY for making me feel like I’m not oversensitve…(and for making me laugh)…I think we all knew it “might” happen, but that’s what we paid flood insurance for.. “laugh’s on us…” we thought flood worked like homeowners… damn those hill people for living too close to trees and not expecting them to fall on their houses…and for them not understanding it benefits the town for the all those low lying people to get back in their homes & pay property taxes… the really sad thing is that if “stacy” said she needed help, right after Sandy, there are so many volunteers with chain saws she probably could have gotten her tree taken down for free. – just because that’s how Highlands rolls.

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    • Agreed – those trees could have been removed for free with all of the other trees that were removed for free by volunteers in Highlands and those volunteers that came from out of state just for tree removal. A friend’s parents in Mercer County (not a flood plain) had volunteers remove trees from her yard and driveway because they couldn’t afford the $9,000 estimate. Of course, probably if they could have afforded it, they would have paid the $9,000. I guess you can’t blame the tree guy for guessing what you are willing and able to pay just so he can get the job and your money….or can you?

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  9. The meeting was terrible. Everyone trying to be helpful but really 6 weeks to decide upon variances? Let everyone build as big and bold as they can and pay the taxes on it. Who cares? The town should be soooo. Thankful that anyone is sinking anything back into this zip code it’s not funny. Do they really need a council meeting to discuss zoning and variances???? Really??? Honey suckle lodge??? Build the same damn thing higher end of discussion. Forget your dumb zoning that obviously never applied as there is no real town in the first place. Bunch of scattered businesses thrown between houses and abandoned property even before Sandy. Get over yourselves that this town is anything. If people can afford to build, let them and be thankful they are doing so! Then maybe by some miracle it might become a nice place to live. If the people in charge are going to give any grief, then they will be responsible for the destruction of what little the town has left to offer.

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  10. Alright so I went to the townhall meeting and felt better about what I had heard coroborating with the info I had read as well as speaking with SBA and FEMA. Then everything changed Tuesday because I got a copy of the estimate from my adjuster finally after waiting 2 plus months from when he was at my house. The estimate is less than 50% of both the tax assesed rate and the market value pre Sandy!

    Based upon what I have read then I assumed I was not eligible for ICC funds or any grants to help lift the house. I met with Dale last night and he said that the ICC letter from Paul Vitale trumps what the insurance company estimate staes as to the damages to my home.

    Anybody know this for sure? And what are the pro’s and cons of being able to use the ICC letter vs. not? I am more conussed than ever! This SUX!

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    • It’s the same confusing dance everyone has – 2 steps forward and 1 gigantic step back with a head slap! Add to that your insurance estimate is probably like my mom’s – pending approval from the insurance company and the government which could take up to 4 weeks or longer. Really??? Totally SUX!!! BTW, the cost to raise a house is outrageous – nothing like the FEMA example of a person paying $20,900. I had even asked Paul the name of the company in the example. 😉 Do you even have an idea of how much it will cost to raise your home? Do you know your current elevation? Do you know how high you will need to raise your home in order to be in compliance? What a clusterF! I wish you well and will check back to see if anyone…ANYONE has answers and if Paul or Dale ever respond to my emails, I will be sure to let you all know. Chances are I will have to jump in my car and drive the 200 miles to see them (been there, done that before) because my 69 year young mom just can’t handle the BS and apparently I was elected.

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    • Welcome to Highlands, NJ where since Sandy, you start to think you’re bi-polar, one day you’re ok and everything’s do-able, you can pull through it, and the next you’re feeling overwhelmed and wondering why you’re even trying to pull it off.
      Regarding knowing “for sure” – I think we’re all just trying to muddle through. – However, if you think it through, its in your adjuster (and insurance company’s best interest to low ball you, less pay out for Flood claim & an obstacle on claiming the ICC money). Plus IMHO I think the delays are a calculated approach to get you not to fight them and just take what they give you.
      I think it comes down to “do you want to raise your house?” if yes, then submit the ICC letter from the town to your insurance that Highlands deems you over 50% damaged, and for good measure have a local GC come out and give you an estimate in writing on putting your house back together, guaranteed it will be 3x what insurance is paying you.Your Ins co will HAVE to open an ICC claim for you based on that. If no, you don’t want to raise your house, then push back on Paul & Dale with the insurance estimate and a market appraisal showing its not damaged 50%.

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    • I am in my 19th year of living in Highlands and accept the fact that some people still consider me a benie. It has been only in the last two years that my time has been freed from the daily, 2 hour, commute and the need to work 10-12 hour days to afford to live at the shore has been lessened. Having more time to spend and attend to local happenings has filled in some of the blanks on why Highlands looks and functions as it does, questions that have never been answered in the 17 prior years that I have lived here. Sandy, the immediate grunt work of cleanup revealed the inner soul of my hometown, something I sensed when I chose to move here. Since the immediate, tasks right in front of everyone and obvious to all response to the storm it has also become apparent why, besides not having a pot of gold at the end of a boardwalk, that Highlands, looked and acted the way it did and does, yesterday and today. Provincial and limited ideas within the powers that are and a full time cadre of those who enjoy the past time of irreverent and mundane sarcasm. Neither the limits or tactics of the powers that be or the sniper fire of the irreverent observers will provide hope for Highlands or solutions, centered on Highlands as a non boardwalk enriched shore tow, it is the decades old playbook that has ruled the town, writ large with Sandy’s aftermath as the backdrop. It is past time that the irreverent and often astute outsiders come to the meetings and raise a ruckus in the open. Time to hold the powers that have and are, feet to the fire with out in the open questions and suggestions. Sitting outside and letting your rounds fall short in the shadows will only insure that a year from now, the same or more and larger failures will remain to complain about. Now is the time.

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