Sandy Hook Fort Hancock redevelopment: Building roofs could collapse
Locals want to rent dilapidated buildings in Fort Hancock
Private sector buys Fort Hancock
Brian Johnston, Asbury Park Press
Fort Hancock’s redevelopment process is taking so long that the roofs of historic buildings are collapsing.
As outlined in Thursday’s meeting of the Fort Hancock 21st Century Federal Advisory Committee, that’s both a real development and a metaphor for the mounting challenges as the debate over what to do with Sandy Hook’s crumbling former army base continues.
In review: Manhattan-based Stillman Development International is proposing to rent and develop homes for “Officers Row,” a boardwalk of 21 stately buildings overlooking Sandy Hook Bay. This is where Fort Hancock’s officers lived before the facility closed in 1974.
Stillman would keep their character and architecture, turning it into 93 apartments.
That plan has provoked much resistance from US Representative Frank Pallone and environmental groups. As a working group set up by the advisory committee seeks grounds for a possible compromise, the deteriorating condition of the roofs along Officers Row threatens to damage the buildings beyond repair.
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Jennifer Nersesian, superintendent of Gateway National Recreation Area – which also includes Sandy Hook – painted a horrific picture of the situation.
“When we started looking at the roofs, it became clear that we couldn’t even assess the roofs without doing some stabilization work first, because some buildings are so far away,” she said during the committee meeting, which was virtual. . “We finally have a contract. We had a team earlier this month to begin assessing all buildings. They couldn’t get into all the buildings because some of them just aren’t safe anymore.”
Neresian said the assessment report should be completed “within the next month or so” and the most urgent measures will then be taken before the onset of winter.
“Just for the initial assessment, stabilization, design phase, this is a more than $2 million project,” Nersesian said.
That money “comes mainly from lease income from some of our other leases,” she said.
“This is good news that it’s moving forward and we finally have people on the ground,” she said. “The goal is to stabilize these buildings until a bigger project takes place — to reinforce and seal them as best we can, so that at least they don’t deteriorate further until we get the fuller rehabilitation project underway.”
Stillman’s rehab project on the table continues to idle in neutral.
Gloomy testimony offered
Six buildings in Fort Hancock are currently leased for various purposes, including a retail store/deli, a two-unit bed and breakfast, and a two-unit rental. Five other buildings are in the “letter of intent” phase which is a precursor to rental; they are planned to be two multi-unit housing units, two dining/event areas and a bar/restaurant.
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Brian Samuelson, who has a lease for the bed and breakfast, expressed concerns about the pace of the Stillman project to the advisory committee.
“We want it to come in and save as many buildings as possible,” he said. “We welcome the developer, but now that he’s in control of 21 buildings, he hasn’t done anything for the past two years, and now it might be a year or two (before anything gets done), and now you’re five years down the line.” gone and these buildings continue to suffer.”
Tom Jones, who rented building 104 as a home and office, gave the committee a bleak picture of the rehabilitation process.
“Despite the best of intentions on all sides, if I was asked by anyone if they should pursue this, I would have to say no,” Jones said. “It’s been a very difficult process.”
Jones called the complexities of Fort Hancock’s lease and rehabilitation a “mysterious, mysterious, murky process.”
“The costs have spiraled out of control, more than double, almost triple what we thought it would be,” Jones said. “It took a lot longer than we thought it should.”
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Shawn Welch, a retired U.S. Army officer and co-chair of the Fort Hancock 21st Century Federal Advisory Committee, expressed regret that Jones’s situation was going “horribly awry,” especially in a relatively small building.
“He’s telling us he’s ready to walk, and that’s not good to hear,” Welch said.
Welch also made comments on behalf of Barney Sheridan, an entrepreneur who converted Building No. 53 into “McFly’s On The Hook,” a retail/deli/catering facility that opened last spring.
“He’s very concerned about the number of people he’s getting into his business,” Welch said of Sheridan. He and his family have not yet made a decision whether to reopen next year. … He gets cases, but not enough and he worries about it. Can he really make it work?”
He said Sheridan was in talks with the park department about advertising.
“A lot of people don’t know he’s there, even now,” Welch said.
Pilot program next
The state of the Stillman project is more or less where it was in April: There is a “general agreement” to move forward with a two-building pilot program.
“Mr. Stillman has shown an interest and willingness to explore different models, such as veteran housing or some affordable housing,” Nersesian said. “This requires a different business model than market-based housing, but they are definitely interested in looking at that and are open to it.”
Nersesian added: “If we look at physically, what can the buildings hold in terms of number of units, what can the site support in terms of activity level and number of units, and what is the business model and who we’re talking about? essentially bringing it up here will all be part of the discussion during this pilot to see if we have a viable concept going forward.”
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Asked to respond to Jones’ laments about the lease and rehab process, Nersesian said she understands where he’s coming from.
“This process is difficult,” she says. “This new kind of program that we’re trying out, this public-private partnership, is a square peg in a round hole, but we’re determined to work through it.”
Jerry Carino is a community columnist for the Asbury Park Press, focusing on the interesting people of Jersey Shore, inspiring stories and pressing issues. Contact him at [email protected]