MANCHESTER – Township officials should have done more to protect residents of a campground that is being sold to the county for open space, some residents said.
Surf & Stream is on a quiet piece of land on Ridgeway Road. Despite it being technically a campground, there are people living there year-round. It will soon be added to the county’s open space inventory.
Judy Noonan, who lives in one of the senior communities, called it a disgrace that the owner of the property didn’t see to the tenants’ removal and expressed that more action should have been taken by the township prior to the purchase of the land.
Ocean County Tax Records document Riverside at Manchester’s purchase of the Surf and Stream property for $2.15 million in 2005.
In 2018, Manchester officials went through the work to make it an area in need of redevelopment, which would have allowed the owner to kick out the residents, tear everything down, and build new homes and commercial properties.
Instead, earlier this year, the Ocean County Commissioners announced that the county and the Township of Manchester planned to purchase the campgrounds for $7.4 million.
One of the conditions of the sale requires that the land be delivered free of any and all structures. Surf and Stream residents who claim they live at the campgrounds year-round have been served with mass eviction notices.
Mayor Robert Hudak and Business Administrator Brandon Umba said the township wasn’t part of the current litigation involving the land and that actions had been taken.
“We issued violations out there over the years,” Mayor Hudak said.
“We are not the contract purchaser. We are providing the county with funds as part of the contract purpose. The litigation is between the tenants, the County and the owner of the property. What I will state from the township’s perspective is that permanent residents never should have been permitted in that area from the beginning,” Umba said. “This is a transient area and it was also never zoned to have permanent structures there because it was for trailers. We didn’t really want housing there. This is pristine land. We are not party to the lawsuit.
“We issued violations to the owner that there were transients there. We issued violations stating they should not have full time residents there,” Umba said.
“I just feel so bad on how it all came about. They hired a lawyer and all that kind of stuff,” Noonan said. She also asked if the proposed county park that would include that property would feature a dog park as was originally requested and not included in the later Ocean County plan.
Manchester put $1.5 million into that project but Umba said, “no decision has been made on how that land will be used. That would have to be discussed with the county.”
“It was not permitted for the owner to give out year-round tenantship, so if he did do that then the owner will have to figure that out,” Umba said. He noted that violations issued from the township were abated.
“To our understanding there should not have been full time residents there. If full time residents were there whether by contract or squatters’ rights, I can’t speak for that,” the business administrator explained. “That is what the property owner will have to deal with.”
Residents have said that the owners have made living conditions impossible, and they have nowhere to go.
County officials were surprised when Surf and Stream inhabitants showed up to a Commissioner meeting to explain they needed time to relocate from their full-time residences. Ocean County Deputy Commissioner Virginia “Ginny” Haines said the seller led them to believe the campground lots were seasonal rentals.
Barry Bielat, the spokesperson for Riverside of Manchester, LLC, continues to deny that anyone lives on the campgrounds on a permanent basis. A sign placed on the campground store served as the first notice to many of the residents that the campgrounds would shut down on May 23.
“We visited 102 campers and found 160 residents have lived at Surf and Stream year-round for varying years,” said Annette Diaz, who has lived at the site for four years. “Some have been here as long as thirty years.”