Walking into 1304 Molokai Drive, you can see daylight and not just from windows but from a fissure in the wall where the house separated during Hurricane Sandy’s forceful winds and storm surge.
The foundation has shifted and a water line still remains at more than two feet high.
Timothy and LeeAnn Rooney, who primarily live in New Milford, have already cleaned out the house. The Forked River home is their secondary residence.
“We wanted to make it our primary soon,” Timothy Rooney said.
The Rooney’s are the first to go before the Zoning Board of Adjustment seeking to rebuild their home. The application was unanimously approved Monday night.
The siding has been torn off the home but that’s because the family had planned to renovate prior to Hurricane Sandy with new siding, a new kitchen and a new bathroom. Now the Rooneys will start from scratch.
“We got wiped out,” Timothy Rooney said.
When the home was inspected after the storm, the Rooney’s were told with all the work it needs between replacing walls, outlets, flooring and its contents, they would “max out,” he said.
“Everything was soaking wet and oozing,” he said of when he and LeAnn returned to their home after the storm.
“We lost a paddle boat. Our jet boat dock was found at the last house on the block,” he said.
Their sheds for storage are missing. Sand in their back yard is now clay and a large wooden swing was found on the dock—it doesn’t belong to them or the neighbors. The deck for the house next door, owned by their son, is missing.
“It’s not the money as much as it is the inconvenience,” Timothy Rooney said.
The couple is in communication with engineers, lawyers, insurance, builders and FEMA. But since the structure is their secondary home, the Rooneys don’t qualify for FEMA aid. As a result, they’re working with their flood insurance.
“I’m going to take whatever they give me and rebuild,” he said.
Others on the street have expressed interest in doing the same, Rooney said, including his son who might be forced to foreclose after the devastation done to his home.
“You’re afraid to talk [to neighbors] because you don’t know if they’ll break down and then you’ll all break down,” LeAnn Rooney said. “Everyone’s going through the process. It’s devastating for everyone.”
The Rooneys love the area and wouldn’t think of leaving after 15 years, she said.
“It’s just so nice. It’s a family,” she said, adding that a storm such as Sandy is “rare.”
“We never had a drop of water,” she said.
Moving forward, the Rooneys plan to replace the one-story dwelling with a two-story home on pilings. The existing home is three feet below flood elevation. Raising the home will not be covered by insurance, Timothy Rooney said.
The zoning board deemed the application complete and approved three variances: minimum lot area and minimum lot width, both preexisting conditions, and minimum rear (waterfront) setback—25 feet are required, 23.9 feet is proposed.
“The structure’s not habitable… Essentially, the whole structure is gone,” Engineer Jason Marciano said.
The proposed development calls for the demolition of the existing dwelling, shed and rear deck. A 40-foot wide by 32.5 foot deep three bedroom house would be constructed, with the first floor elevated above grade, and including a first floor covered porch, front floor front bay window, first floor rear deck and steps, second floor rear cantilever, raised air conditioning units, stone driveway and wood ties along each side property line.
Friends encourage the Rooneys with the new home, LeAnn Rooney said.
“We still like the old,” she said. “There are a lot of memories. You’re not going to get that kind of house again…But at some point you have to come to reality and say it’s time to just move forward. We all come to grips with it.”
“We’ll survive,” Timothy Rooney said.
Receiving zoning board approval was the first step in a “new beginning,” LeAnn Rooney said. The couple is still waiting on a structural engineer and insurance, hoping the home can be ready in time for the summer.
“I want to get it expedited as quickly as possible,” Timothy Rooney said, which is why he jumped on rebuilding within a month after Sandy struck the area, expecting the township will be inundated with similar applications.
The Rooney’s will not be able to start construction until 45 days after the January meeting, in which the approval will be memorialized.
The application was the first of what the zoning board believes will be many Hurricane Sandy-related appeals to come. Chairman Tim McDonald said the township as a whole—Committee, zoning and Planning Board—will have to get involved.
“The issue normally is, unless it’s very egregious, most boards will let you rebuild but it does take time and effort and there’s the sheer number that all the town’s in this area are dealing with,” Attorney Thomas Gannon said.
McDonald initiated a discussion at the conclusion of the meeting asking board members to brainstorm ways Zoning can assist those affected by Sandy.
The board does not have the authority to determine what appeals come before them, Gannon said, but they can expedite the process as they did with the Rooney’s in deeming the application complete and approving it in one meeting.
“We’ve got to do something to help these victims…We’re going to have a lot to deal with,” McDonald said. “We’re going to bend over backwards to accommodate them as quickly as possible.”