Which would you rather have – the view or the house?

This is commentary from political blogger and cartoonist Rob Tornoe.

It’s amazing how every time tragedy strikes, people from all walks of life seem to put aside their differences and work together toward a common good. Even blowhard Chris Christie managed to don his magical fleece and put aside petty party politics to bond with President Obama. 

“Jersey Strong” seems to have taken on a new connotation these days as storm victims and residents throughout the state (and country) come together as a community to rebuild not only the shore, but also resident’s lives ripped apart by Hurricane Sandy. Well, everywhere except Harvey Cedars.

In this affluent little borough located on Long Beach Island, the owners of a $1.7 million oceanfront home feel they are owed $375,000 from the town for building a dune that ultimately saved their home, but also wrecked their ocean view.

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Yes, you read that correctly. Back in 2009 and 2010, a $25 million beach replenishment project built 22-foot-high dunes to protect Harvey Cedars from whatever nature decided to throw its way. While the borough was able to settle with most of the homeowners, it had to take 15, including the Karans, to court because they felt the town’s offer of $300 in compensation wasn’t enough to make up for the loss of their precious ocean view. 

In the case of the Karans, they claimed that the loss of their view of so significant, it reduced the value of the property by $500,000. They were eventually awarded $375,000 by the Ocean County Superior Court in April of 2011, a ruling that was upheld last March by the New Jersey Appellate Division. The town is now appealing the ruling to federal court.

Meanwhile, their house is still standing, surviving the wrath of Hurricane Sandy because of the protective dunes that supposedly destroyed their property value. It’s a lose-lose for Harvey Cedars, or any town unfortunately to have homeowners unwilling to sacrifice in order to preserve and protect their community. If the town doesn’t replenish the beaches and build large dunes, the community will simply become an inlet and be destroyed by the next big storm. If they do build the dunes, they get sued. 

The homeowners’ attorney, Peter H. Wegener, confirms it’s all about the money. “We never took the position that we are against the dunes,” Wegener told the Asbury Park Press. “This is a project that benefits everyone, and why shouldn’t the property owners be justly compensated for their property?”

I don’t know the Karans, or any of the other homeowners who held out in order to receive six-figure payouts from Harvey Cedars. But from my perspective, it seems they were all motivated by greed, rather than the safety of their community as a whole. After all, I don’t see them rushing to give back the $375,000 they were awarded now that Hurricane Sandy has returned their view of the ocean. 

It strikes me as very shortsighted for the courts to value the view of the ocean over the safety of the community. If everyone involved were willing to take a step back from the window and give this issue a wider look, they would see this decision threatens to block further beach replenishment and cause thousands of people to lose their homes in the future. 

If I were the federal judge hearing the case, I would take the Karans and the other homeowners on a sight-seeing trip to Seaside Heights or Bay Head. I wonder if seeing condemned homes and people’s lives completely destroyed by Hurricane Sandy would change their money-grubbing tune.

After all, what a great selling point for a house – “Beautiful ocean front home protected from flooding and storm surges by replenished dunes.” Seems to me that’s a much better sales pitch than, “Ocean Front house with great view of oncoming destructive storm. Bucket included.”


Rob Tornoe is a political cartoonist and a WHYY contributor. See more of his work at RobTornoe.com, and follow him on twitter @RobTornoe.


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