BARNEGAT – An agreement between the Township Committee and Paramount Homes brings 31 prospective homeowners one step closer to moving into their new houses.
These frustrated people had bought homes in the Barnegat section of the Escapes Ocean Breeze 55+ community, which is being built by Paramount. Legal wrangling kept these homebuyers from being able to move in.
Now, Barnegat officials agreed to issue Temporary Certificates of Occupancy (TCOs) for each affordable housing and/or market rate unit currently under construction that meets TCO requirements.
Paramount Homes will accrue $500 weekly fines for TCOs issued for the 31 market rate units currently under construction. Penalties began September 6, 2022, regardless of when the temporary certificates of occupancy are issued. The financial charges continue to accumulate until the developer is in compliance with the affordable housing phasing schedule.
Provided the developer meets the 100-day phasing schedule requirement, the township will not collect the $500 per week fine on each unit. However, Paramount is required to post a $200,000 bond to cover the fines in the event it does not complete the affordable housing phasing as required.
“The developer has to apply for the TCOs,” said Township Attorney Christopher Dasti. “It wouldn’t behoove him not to apply because the fines will just continue to accrue.”
Ray Bragg, who currently lives in Jackson, was one of two concerned homebuyers who first publicly asked township officials for help during their July committee meeting. Bragg said he and his wife signed a contract for their new house in May 2021. They were shocked when the developer said they wouldn’t be able to close until the early part of 2023.
According to Bragg, the problem had nothing to do with construction delays or supply shortages. Paramount placed the blame on the township, citing its refusal to issue certificates of occupancy until the developer completed affordable housing units.
As part of its agreement with the township, Paramount Homes subsequently acknowledged they’d fallen behind in delivering the affordable units as required by a phasing schedule set up in accordance with state regulations.
Eileen Miller joined Bragg in the initial pleas for intervention from the local governing body. Southern Ocean Times’ exclusive coverage of the issue led other Escapes Ocean Breeze purchasers to contact Bragg and form an informal coalition. They have become neighbors helping neighbors before even moving into the development.
Closing delays have resulted in hardships as described by an assortment of prospective homebuyers who showed up at the Township Committee’s September meeting. Some have sold homes, rented apartments indefinitely, while others have lost out on low interest rates.
A number of the prospective residents have engaged legal counsel to challenge the developer. Many of them claim Paramount Homes failed to communicate with them or respond to their complaints.
Mayor Alfonso “Al” Cirulli credited the collaborate efforts of the township’s business administrator, engineer, attorney and code enforcement department working together with the attorneys from Paramount in coming to terms that would get people in their homes.
Meanwhile, Paramount Homes bears the cost of the work of the various professionals and related fees. The developer consented to issuing a check in the amount of $35,000 to reimburse costs to Barnegat Township as part of the executed agreement.
Barnegat has already issued 255 certificates of occupancy for market rate units and seven COs for affordable units in the development. No additional market rate homes were to be granted certificates of occupancy until Paramount Homes secured COs for 21 more affordable housing units.
The 34-page agreement executed between the township and Paramount Homes also addresses other areas of the project. Permits for water lines and electric hookups have expired for certain sections of the project. Details in the document outline the requirements for running both utility services.
“I’ve never fought for anything so hard in my life,” said Miller. “It was just very frustrating and very difficult to go through as I’m sure it was for all of you as well.”
In expressing her gratitude to township officials, Miller said she looked forward to paying taxes on her new home.
Dasti made it clear that every pending unit within the development already under construction would be eligible for the TCOs.
“No new building permits for new construction will be issued until the builder catches up on the affordable housing schedule,” Dasti emphasized. “They’ve said they can do that in 100 days.”
Paramount Homes also agreed to deliver the next phase of affordable housing units about six months ahead of time, which means they should be completed by March of 2023.
Bragg, who spearheaded efforts to get himself and others into their homes, said he was impressed with how expediently township officials came up with a solution.
“This (resolution) is great,” said Bragg. “It’s a good feeling to know that I’m coming to a township where they look after their residents.”
A professional engineer who works for a government agency, Bragg said he was familiar with the types of agreements made with developers. He felt the language in the executed agreement with Paramount was “perfect.”
“It covers all aspects of everything and puts him in a position where he has to deliver,” Bragg concluded. “Thank you so much.”