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BRICK  An oceanfront community that burned down in the midst of superstorm Sandy will be rebuilt, but not as it once was.Camp Osborn used to be a collection of single-story beach bungalows tightly packed together, a solid version of the tenuous tent community that preceded it nearly a century ago.Betty Ann Fuller, 64, who lived on Shell Road for decades, remembers it as the type of place where you could hear your neighbor's toilet flush.“It was a culture that you’ve never seen anywhere else," she said. “People were family. We always helped each other out. We always got together on holidays.”In the future, the vestiges of that era will be a memory. The 32 bungalows that stood on the southern section of Camp Osborn – which burned down in a natural gas-fueled fire as the superstorm swamped the area – will not be rebuilt.Instead, they will be replaced by 13 elevated two-story homes."There was sometimes... less than 5 feet between each of the cottages," Mayor John G. Ducey said of the former homes. "That was one of the problems, because of our fire codes, the cottages were too close to each other."
Today, Camp Osborn is an empty dirt lot lined with fence and dotted with weeds. Broken glass, a piece of black pipe, and small chunks of charred and rusted material lay in the sand where the homes once stood.Many residents and officials in Brick believe the physical closeness of the community helped the fire spread and burned the houses there to the ground."Ultimately, that was their demise," said Ducey. "A couple of them caught on fire and they all burned because they were so close together."
That fire, once it ignited, could not be extinguished because Brick's fire companies were unable to reach the neighborhood, Fuller said. The base of the Mantoloking Bridge had washed away in the storm surge and flooding closed portions of Route 35.
The flames then jumped Route 35 North and consumed the home Fuller had purchased just months prior. 
"I lost items that belonged to my great grandmother when I consolidated other homes that I owned, depressionware, dinnerware, glassware, photographs from being down the beach in the 1950s," she recalled.Fuller lost her new home and the remaining possessions of her son, who died in 2007. All she had left was three days of clothing, her pets, some photographs and her computer. “I lost it all in the fire," she said. “Everything else was gone."Yet Fuller wants to move back. The Camp Osborn she remembers will never be the same. Originally, this section of the camp had a density of more than 22 units per acre. The new plan reduces the density to about 9 units per acre, yet existing zoning rules limit development to about 5 units per acre.Some neighbors worry this new development would still space buildings too closely together, will create traffic problems, and could perpetuate a fire risk that existed in the original Camp Osborn.“We’re not against them building,” said Marie Sacco of Lyndhurst Drive, who testified at a Board of Adjustment meeting on Wednesday against the redevelopment. “We’re against them being so close.”
“This is a dramatic reduction” in density, said attorney John J. Jackson III. Jackson represents Robert Osborn, who owns the southern section of Camp Osborn. “This will comply with all building codes… This is a safe community that will recapture a portion of the shore that once existed.”Osborn received unanimous approval from the Board of Adjustment on Wednesday for the variances needed to place 13 elevated, two-story homes on the 1.4-acre section of Camp Osborn that he controls.
His proposal has faced months of criticism from residents and an attorney they hired to fight the plan.Attorney Edward F. Liston Jr., who represents the proposal's opponents, urged the board to reject the variance request, saying approval would amount to “zoning by variance, which is illegal.”“It’s an obscene perversion of the zoning ordinance," said Liston. “It is his (Osborn's) purely private interest that the board is being asked to give it’s stamp of approval.”
After an emotionally-charged meeting that occasionally devolved into Liston and Board Chairman Harvey Langer arguing, the board supported Osborn's plan.Board Vice Chairman Dennis Raftery read in a statement during the meeting that the 32 original homes were “haphazardly” placed and that the new design “is a very creative approach to the rebuilding of this site.”Board member Stephen Leitner agreed and said: “I think the positives outweigh the negatives.”Despite the changes to the neighborhood, Fuller looks forward to homes being rebuilt in Camp Osborn.“Fifty-eight homes will not be allowed back," said Fuller, referring to the entire population of the camp. "We don’t know what that magic number (of homes) will be there.”Yet she said she's hopeful that rebuilding will be a new beginning for this neighborhood.“We were wiped off the face of the earth, and entire community is gone," she said. “We don’t have anything to lose because we already lost it.”
Amanda Oglesby: 732-557-5701; aoglesby@GannettNJ.com

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