- Associated Press - Thursday, February 11, 2016

POINT PLEASANT BEACH, N.J. (AP) - A proposed dune project at the New Jersey shore could cut off access to the beach for 22 property owners, including the brother of Gov. Chris Christie, a lawyer for homeowners fighting the project said.

Todd Christie is among the Point Pleasant Beach homeowners whose oceanfront property is being targeted by his brother’s administration for the shore protection project. The governor’s brother, who lives in Morris County but owns a summer home at the shore, says he supports the plan, but is only one member of a larger homeowner’s association that has thus far refused to grant permission for the work to begin.

The beach behind the oceanfront homes of Todd Christie and others is owned by the homeowner’s association for the use of its 22 members.

Attorney Anthony DellaPelle said Thursday that the dunes could cut off access to the beach for oceanfront homeowners, forcing them to walk or even drive down the street and around the corner to access the shoreline instead of simply walking out the back door onto the beach, as they do now.

“You pay millions for a beach house with a private beach, and what you now get is a public beach that you may have to ride a bike to or drive to,” he told The Associated Press. “Do you think that this makes the house less valuable? Why not just buy one a few blocks inland to begin with? It probably sells for 40 to 50 percent less than the one on the beach.”

He also noted that most of the homes on the beach already have dunes that they paid for themselves.

In a court filing Thursday, DellaPelle wrote that the dunes would “destroy and eliminate the owners’ access to and from” the beach by eliminating four walkways from the homes to the sand, and change the nature of the beach from privately owned to public.

But in its lawsuit seeking to seize the beach, the state Department of Environmental Protection said the homeowner’s association will still have the right to build walkways over the top of the dunes, so long as the structures don’t affect the integrity of the dunes.

DellaPelle said homeowners can take little comfort from that.

“The state has not offered to rebuild what it removes or to pay to rebuild it,” he said. “While the state has indicated that the owners may apply for a permit to build a new walkover at the owners’ expense, the state has control over whether that permit will be approved or denied, and there is no way of knowing what will happen in the future.”

A spokesman for the state Attorney General’s office declined comment Thursday.

Since shortly after Superstorm Sandy devastated the coast in October 2012 - including destroying some homes on Todd Christie’s street - Chris Christie has been pushing to build dunes along the state’s entire coast. But he has gotten unexpectedly strong pushback from oceanfront homeowners in several spots. They have fought to a draw in court.

DellaPelle’s court filing also asserted the DEP does not have the legal authority to take the land by using several laws, including eminent domain. That law enables governments to seize private property for a public purpose after paying compensation. The filing also says the state exceeded the limits of an executive order Christie issued in 2013 to advance the dune project.

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Follow Wayne Parry at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC

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