Since Josh and Leslie Neri moved to the Woodcrest development in 2017, they have dealt with their neighbor Bruce Kates’ ongoing construction work.
The couple reached out privately to Kates and his son Jordan in the past several years and also in June. But at its Aug. 16 meeting, council heard from the Neris and other Woodcrest neighbors who still have complaints.
“We were told that the house next door to us was being remodeled and being placed up for sale in six months,” said Josh Neri.
He cited a number of offenses on Kates’ property, among them a sidewalk that was ripped up and not replaced for a year, leading students from Woodcrest Elementary School and neighbors who regularly traverse the area to walk on the street.
Other complaints are using a bulldozer to take down a tree and nearly taking out the power lines, making the street temporarily impassable; and a burst pipe leading to the Kates’ yard flooding with several feet of water in their basement.
The Neris have already been in contact with the zoning office, property maintenance office, mayor’s office, police and the code enforcement office. In the past five years, Leslie Neri noted that Kates had only been to court once, in 2018, when he was fined $200 in spite of the continuing problem. Though another court appearance was arranged in May 2019, according to emails provided to The Sun, there are no records of it coming to term.
“These and other negligent construction practices leave us wondering how Mr. Kates could possibly have a valid license and insurance in good standing,” Josh Neri said. “How is someone that (is) so clearly reckless allowed to obtain permit after permit on the numerous projects he is working on throughout the township?”
The Neris presented council with pictures of the property spanning the past five years and a list of 490 signatures from a Change.org petition requesting a court date for Kates. They also seek maximum fines for code violations and the immediate removal of dirt, debris, pavers and construction material from Kates’ property.
Cosmas Diamantis, the director of community development, said he had been in touch with the homeowners and that an inspector was sent out on Aug. 15 to identify violations of the property maintenance ordinance. Diamantis issued Kates a 10-day notice to rectify the situation and noted that the township will be allowed to go in and clean up the debris.
“Although my understanding is that some of the dirt has been moved since yesterday, as the Neris described, property maintenance inspector George (Redman) will be doing a followup inspection of the property to ensure that all the items that he referenced in the letter and that were seen at the site during his inspection are in fact cleaned up,” Diamantis said.
Acting Solicitor Howard Long recommended that following the 10-day notice period, an inspector check each day for violations, with each day’s summons counting as a separate offense.
Both Bruce and Jordan spoke at the meeting, with the elder Kates asking what would make Josh and Leslie Neri happy. He provided more recent pictures of the property, and Councilwoman Michele Golkow said she saw improvement since she saw the property earlier that afternoon. Jordan offered an apology to the couple and residents of Woodcrest.
“It’s just me out there, me and my dad, and we’re trying the best we can, and right now, we’re on the turnaround,’’ Jordan said. “Everything’s just getting buttoned up, and if you drive by today, it looks just like a normal house with the driveway being worked on.
“We intend to keep it that way and be ready for sale in 30 to 60 days,” he added. We take this very seriously and we’re doing the best we can.”
In other news:
- The township approved the purchase of a new dump truck to help with trash collection.
- Council appointed Randy Acorcey and Randy Smith as homeowner members for the Rent Review Board and Marty Weiss as the alternate member. He is also board chairman.
- Council President David Fleisher announced that moving forward, caucus will begin at 6:30 p.m.
- Mayor Susan Shin Angulo said discussions on the budget have been moved to September’s meeting, and that the repairs on the Covered Bridge Road took place Aug. 17 to 19.
Council’s next meeting is Sept. 12.
This article has been updated to correct that Kates’ yard and basement had flooded, not the Neri’s yard.