When Staten Island developer Ray Masucci took to the microphone at a recent Zoning Board meeting, he posed the question many in the audience wanted to ask.
"Why 19 houses?" he asked.
Masucci said when he first laid eyes on the defunct Santo Marina site off Williams Street in Bayville, he thought he was the "prettiest" site he'd ever seen in his life.
But his plans to build 19 three-story single-family homes on the riverfront site didn't sit well with most of the nearly 100 people who showed up at a special Board of Adjustment meeting on May 23.
It also didn't sit well with zoning board planner Anna Wainwright, who hammered Masucci and well-known Ocean County attorney John Paul Doyle with questions.
says he has to build 19 homes to cover the costs of redeveloping the old marina, which sits at the mouth of the Toms River, close to the Ocean Gate border.
"The vision is to bring this marina back to what it used to be," he said. "The cost associated with bringing it back...is not going to be covered by a marina. If you say build 12 houses, it doesn't work."
"if it were possible to make everyone happy, I would make everyone happy," Masucci added.
While everyone who spoke during the public portion of the meeting agreed that the marina needed to be redeveloped, few had any sympathy for Masucci's financial dilemma.
"We didn't create it," a man yelled from the audience. "You bought it."
Well-known area Realtor Ann Schuld, who lives on nearby Cove Road, summed it up succinctly.
"You can't make all the neighbors pay because maybe you bought something you shouldn't have," she said.
Doyle spent much of the first half of a nearly five-hour meeting extolling the benefits of a redeveloped, 71-slip marina, two-story, 31-foot high dockmaster's house and store, parking lot, private beach and homes would bring to the surrounding neighborhood.
"To get to that vision, we need approvals," he told the board. "I would only ask that you keep in mind the broader vision and the present marina that is there."
And he wasted no time bashing , which Masucci bought from longtime owner Paul Santo for $1.9 million back in 2010.
"What is there now is a decrepit, decaying, deteriorating marina," Doyle said in a masterful use of alliteration. "We want to have it thrive again. It is a blight on the neighborhood."
Residents question density
The initial stage of the project needs variances for the density of housing on the site and the dockmaster's quarters.
Eleven of the 34-foot high homes would be clustered and back up against homes on nearby Cove Road West in the Toms River Shores section. They require variances for front, side and rear setbacks and would be spaced 10 feet apart.
"They are row houses," said Chris Pero, Cove Road West, during a meeting break. "Build the five houses it's zoned for now. They are going to turn it into winter rentals and summer rentals."
"He's not doing us any favors by purchasing a property that was a disaster," said Lynda Pero. "That's his responsibility to clean it up."
Ian Borden, Masucci's planner, said there are already a number of non-comforming lots in the area.
"Look at some of the newer homes," he said. "The character of these houses is quite consistent with the square footage and height."
But Wainwright disagreed.
"A 34-foot height will have an impact," she said. "Three stories will be different on these lots than it would be on a 10,000-square foot lot. The majority of your lot sizes are half the required size."
The hearing wore on into the night. Wainwright and zoning board members had question after question. Masucci started looking glum.
"This is not an atypical situation," Borden said.
"But it's not a typical situation in this neighborhood," Wainwright said.
Many of the residents who live on the quiet streets near the marina site are primarily of the site, said Robert Parzanese, who lives on Cedar Street.
"There will be a lot more noise," he said. "The density is too high. I don't think our streets are made for that."
Wainwright suggested that Masucci move a proposed parking lot next to an existing residential home closer to the marina, between two of the proposed new houses.
"Locate the parking lot closer to Williams Street," Wainwright said. "Not in the middle of houses that are already existing. There could be a lot of activity, noise and lights disturbing to the neighborhood."
Wainwright said she was concerned that if the zoning board approved the variances, future developers might point to the Masucci application as justification for their own cases.
"When you do something like this, there is a domino effect in the neighborhood later on," she said. "They are going to use your application. We don't want that. we want to keep space adequate space between the houses. Your application would definitely have a huge effect. There's no reason why this neighborhood should suffer that."
Nearly four hours into the meeting, Doyle asked for five minutes to confer with his client. Masucci needed to decide whether to withdraw his application, continue, or revise his plans, Doyle said.
When they came back, Doyle asked if another special board meeting on the matter could be scheduled for June 27.
"We may submit a revised plan, we may decide to withdraw," he told the board.
"There's just too many houses and the parking lot is a big issue," Zoning Board President James Fulcomer said before the meeting adjourned. "It's something you should carefully examine."