'I can't even take an outdoor shower.' In Avalon, 'sacred summer' is threatened by the contractors next door

Julie Donatelli stands on her balcony with a construction site across the street in Avalon, NJ on July 19, 2018.

AVALON, N.J. — Eileen and Dennis Huston have taken to checking the wind direction each morning in Avalon, where they own a beautiful beach home they call “Vitamin Sea.”

This summer, if the wind is out of the south, they find themselves chewing on particles of synthetic wood decking from the house being built next door. That work has left a coating of particles on their decks, flower beds, windows, and, especially unwanted, floating across the surface of their pool, a gentle dusting of micro-plastic.

“It was like snowing every day for six, seven days,” Dennis Huston said. “They didn’t have a collection bag on their saws. The non-biodegradable white vinyl from the trim boards goes into the air. Picture going three stories up on scaffolding with a southerly breeze. I’m north of that. My whole house is affected.”

They are not alone in booming Avalon, where this year, through June 1, the city has issued permits for 32 total rebuilds out of 429 permits issued for overall repairs. That means permits for 32 dumpsters, which dot some of Avalon’s most affluent streets, like Avalon Avenue, Dune Drive, and, especially busy, West Seventh Street. In 2017, 100 permits were issued for complete rebuilds.

“Right now on my street, there’s, one, two, three major construction projects and a small one that just started yesterday putting on a new deck,” said resident Julie Donatelli.  “It’s just out of control. They’re building these massive homes. The bigger the home, the longer it takes.”

In 2017, there were 84 demolition permits issued. So far in 2018, there have been 43.

And while demolitions are banned between the Fourth of July and Labor Day, not so the building.

A view from the second floor deck of Martha Wright shows her neighbor’s construction site in Avalon, N.J.

Martha Wright owns a home on the bay in Avalon, where she says white Azek decking dust settles onto the floor of the bay. She says demolitions continue up until the Fourth of July, when local law bans them for the summer, but the pile driving for the constructions begins in full force for the summer months.

“Years ago, construction was pretty cyclical,” she said. “Houses would drop in the fall, after the season. By the time summer came around, they might be putting siding on the house, finishing up. That has shifted. There’s so much work. It’s a flat-out increase in construction. And these projects are more and more complex. Pretty much every house has a pool. Pretty much every house has an accessory structure” like a cabana or a pool house.

“You’re putting up a small hotel, basically.”

Several dozen residents attended the most recent Avalon council meeting to complain about these contractors next door, who they say have left their bucolic Shore town filled with noise, loud music, debris, clogged streets, uncovered dumpsters, and construction vehicles, and are undermining the “sacred summer” they moved to Avalon to enjoy.

Camera icon Dennis Huston
Avalon resident Dennis Huston took a photo of PVC particle dust that had settled on his car from the contractor next door. Residents are up in arms over the uptick in construction they say is threatening their “sacred summer.”

The Hustons wrote to town officials and complained about the debris and open dumpsters, in addition to vulgar language and “Mexican music” of the workers (though one day this week, the music wafting over from the house next door to the Hustons’ was “Hey Jude).

“Avalon: Sanctuary Town for Contractors” was the headline on a letter to the editor from Vincent Macaluso in the Cape May County Herald, which has covered several meetings attended by residents. Macaluso complained that Avalon’s lenient rules about overnight parking have led contractors from other towns to park their vehicles on the streets of Avalon, sometimes for months at a time.

Since the attention, some builders have tried to respond, according to the city and residents, posting job site rules, coming over to check on neighbors, and, in the case of the Hustons, sending over workers to clean the particles from their decks.

The Hustons said the contractor began using a Wawa bag to catch sawdust particles after they complained.

Camera icon Amy Rosenberg / Staff
A house on Dune Drive has job site rules posted. Some builders have tried to appease neighbors by vacuuming decks and coming around to see if everything is all right.

Avalon business administrator Scott Wahl has been meeting with residents and elected officials and others in the administration to discuss possible changes to work rules for contractors, who currently are allowed to work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day except Sunday during the summer season. Some ideas are being discussed for alternative penalties for code violations rather than fines, which mean little to contractors who are working on $10 million homes.

Avalon has also added a code inspector and expanded the hours to coincide with contractor hours.

But Wahl stressed the boon to the economy of both Avalon and the construction and contractor community (and added that Avalon is not in the business of policing the type of music played by people within its borders).

“We’re seeing an increase in construction,” he said. “The stock market’s better. It’s economic-driven. We get that. We’re sensitive to that. I can speak for Avalon: Every day I come to work in the morning, I’m following contractors, electricians, plumbers, everyone else. It’s a huge economy here at the Jersey Shore with the building trade.”

Camera icon Amy Rosenberg
Avalon resident Eileen Huston says the uptick in construction is threatening her “sacred summer.” Depending on the direction of the wind, her house, pool, decks and flowers get coated with pvc particle dust.

Wright says she would like to see the town add Saturday as another day when work is prohibited in summer, in addition to the three-day holiday weekends and the Fourth of July. And she thinks penalties like community service or stop-work orders would get the attention of builders. (Wahl noted that builders who are repeatedly fined can lose their state license, but that they typically register under another name and return.)

“We’re all in tourist town,” Wright said. “Where are these people going to park? If tourists are dodging hoses and wires and blocked sidewalks, then tourists have to walk in the street.”

Of the borough’s response to frustrated neighbors, Wright said: “I don’t think they get the level of anger.”

Some in Avalon take the long view. David McGinley of Newtown Square, whose vacation home in Avalon is across from a construction site this summer, says the owner came over this week to check to see if everything was OK. “It’s a beautiful home,” he said. “How can you complain about a beautiful house going up? And I’m learning a little Latin music.”

Donatelli says she has heard the arguments against the neighbors, who of course already have beautiful Shore homes not that dissimilar to the ones now being built (though, typically, smaller).

“To say we are privileged has nothing to do with it,” she says. “We all work for a living somewhere else and come here in the summertime for our homes. Every time you pull up, you’re surrounded by it. I was surrounded for two months by 15 contractor trucks. I can’t even take an outdoor shower.”