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With ‘Squatter’ Ousted And Future Planned, Seaside Park Motel’s Demolition Date Set

The Desert Palm Inn, March 21, 2024. (Photo: Shorebeat)

The Desert Palm Inn, March 21, 2024. (Photo: Shorebeat)

A Seaside Park motel condemned by the borough – and still in litigation over the determined price of the property – will be torn down later this month after multiple delays, including the presence of a squatter in the building who the town said in legal filings had been placed there by the former owner to delay the wrecking ball.

The Desert Palm Motel, located on North Ocean Avenue, has been the subject of no less than 62 back-and-forth motions, correspondences and other legal maneuvers since it was taken by eminent domain by the borough following a redevelopment declaration first initiated in 2022. An engineering report found multiple issues with the motel’s condition, and noted frequent police activity at the site, including some high profile incidents.

The borough placed $4 million in escrow with the courts and took ownership of the property immediately upon voting in favor of its condemnation, but its former owner – a North Jersey physician – has refused to take the payment, avoided responding to requests from the borough’s legal team, later requested a change of venue in court and now has certain aspects of the valuation arguments pending before the state Superior Court’s appellate division.

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Superior Court Judge Marlene Lynch Ford, now retired, ruled the taking was legal.

Despite the litany of legal wranglings and entanglements playing out behind the scenes, the borough council on Thursday night authorized $312,835 to be added to the bond measure that was utilized to fund the taking of the property in order to pay for the demolition. Council President Marty Wilk said the building was scheduled to be demolished starting March 29, Good Friday.

Under the terms of a consent order agreed to by both the borough and Ramesh Kania, the former owner, the demolition had been stayed until March 18. Under the same agreement, however, the borough was not precluded from hiring a demolition contractor and remediating environmental issues that lingered at the property.

In a brief authored by attorney Robin La Bue, representing the borough, it was alleged that the motel’s former owner – who previously pleaded guilty in federal court to receiving kickbacks in a Medicare fraud scheme – intentionally placed a squatter in the already-condemned building to prevent its demolition.

The Desert Palm Inn, March 21, 2024. (Photo: Shorebeat)

The Desert Palm Inn, March 21, 2024. (Photo: Shorebeat)

“While all of this was pending, defendant deliberately left an employee living in the vacant motel in a further attempt to delay demolition,” the brief stated. “The Borough was forced to eject the squatter, which was granted by Judge [John] Doran on September 25, 2023. Defendant filed a motion for reconsideration which was denied.”

The same brief said the borough is now considering the Desert Palm site to house a new public well which will replace an existing well that has had issues with water color and turbidity.

“The subject property is an optimal site for a new well because it has sufficient separation from existing public drinking wells that are currently located at 37 J Street, 127 Decatur Avenue, 220 13th Avenue and 1214 Barnegat Avenue,” the brief said. “The borough engaged an engineer to design and facilitate permitting and construction of a new public drinking well on the subject property. The procedure involves the drilling of a test well that will be converted to a public drinking well following water quality and capacity testing.”

The drilling of the well requires the demolition of the building, an engineer’s report found.

The Desert Palm Inn, March 21, 2024. (Photo: Shorebeat)

The Desert Palm Inn, March 21, 2024. (Photo: Shorebeat)

Ultimately, Superior Court Judge Craig L. Wellerson approved the consent decree temporarily staying the demolition and avoiding a trial, though the stay has now ended and underlying issues are being brought before an appeals court. Meanwhile, the $4 million set aside by the borough after an independent appraiser found that to be the property’s market value remains within the court’s escrow account pending the final outcome of the case.

“It is understandable that the defendant wants to retain his property, and he has every right to be disappointed,” the brief stated. “However, the defendant’s disappointment does not nullify the power or authority of the governing body to acquire private property for public use, as the Borough of Seaside Park has done in this matter.”

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