At the end of 81st Street, the bayfront property is obscured by tall marsh growth.

By Donald Wittkowski

Sea Isle City’s zoning board is being sued by property owners whose application was denied to build a single-family home on a site that partially falls within a wetlands conservation zone.

The state Superior Court lawsuit filed June 20 by Shirley A. Kling and Terrance L. Crowley alleges that the board was “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable” in its decision to reject a zoning variance that is needed to build the home at the bay end of 81st Street.

The suit also claims that the project “satisfied all criteria” for a variance and would not have a negative impact on wetlands, flooding, threatened or endangered wildlife or other environmental concerns.

In refusing the request for a variance at their June 3 meeting, the zoning board members expressed concerns about flooding in the neighborhood. They also said they did not want to set a precedent by allowing a new home to be built in a wetlands conservation area.

Under Sea Isle’s zoning laws, areas that are designated for wetlands conservation are restricted to “recreational fishing and crabbing, boating, passive recreation and environmental study.” Home construction is not allowed in those areas.

The Kling and Crowley property, owned by the families since 1957, is tucked behind towering marsh reeds at the end of 81st Street in Sea Isle’s Townsends Inlet section. Kling and Crowley own two adjacent bayfront lots. They want to build on one lot and keep the second lot vacant.

The lot that they have proposed to develop is unusual because half of it is zoned for housing construction, while the other half lies within in the wetlands conservation area.

“(The) application is unique in that the parcel is located in two distinct zoning districts,” wrote Andrew Previti, the zoning board’s engineer, in a Feb. 18, 2019, report summarizing the proposed project.

The Kling and Crowley families had hoped to build a vacation home, but the zoning board voted 5-1 to deny their request for a variance.

The vote culminated a lengthy meeting that included intense opposition to the variance by homeowners in the neighborhood.

Opponents of the project line up to testify against it during the June 3 zoning board meeting.

Amid the packed meeting room at City Hall, opponents lined up to testify against the proposed project. The line stretched out the door and into the hallway.

Barbara Allen Woolley-Dillon, a professional planner representing opponents of the project, testified during the meeting that the land is below the high water line and vulnerable to flooding.

The lawsuit, though, says that planning experts representing Kling and Crowley testified during the hearing that the application “satisfied all criteria” required for a variance.

Named as defendants in the suit are the zoning board and the city of Sea Isle. Christopher Gillin-Schwartz, attorney for the zoning board, and Paul Baldini, Sea Isle’s solicitor, both declined to comment Tuesday on the litigation. Richard M. Hluchan, the attorney for Kling and Crowley, could not be reached for comment.

The suit asks the court to overturn the zoning board’s denial and grant the variance.

“The Zoning Board’s action was arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable and contrary to (state law) and the evidence of record,” it says.

Prior to coming before the zoning board, Kling and Crowley had obtained approvals from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build a single-family home on the same site, according to the suit.

The DEP had previously denied granting a permit for residential construction on the land, but reconsidered after the families appealed.

A copy of the deed for the property shows its ownership by the Kling and Crowley families starting in 1957.