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This Land Is Our Land, Cinnaminson Tells Riled Residents

Several West Branch Woods homeowners are infringing on township land and the town is compelling them to move structures that have been up for years.

Some township residents aren’t happy with news they received last month that their fences, sheds and even sandboxes are allegedly encroaching on land that isn’t theirs. And now Cinnaminson wants that land back.

Seven residents on Maureen and Delores drives, in the township’s West Branch Woods section, were given less than three weeks to comply with a township request for removal. The homeowners aren't just irate over the timing, but also the reason.

“It aggravates me because they decided to pick and choose,” said six-year Maureen Drive resident Joe Congemi. “I just don’t think it’s right.”

In mid-April, the township sent letters to residents whose encroachments jutted into the field behind Maureen and Delores drives. That large field is home to high-tension wires owned by PSE&G. The township wants to deem that land as open space.

The need for this open space started a few months ago. Cinnaminson had to take 2.5 acres of land at the Cinnaminson Home site off of the state’s open space inventory so they can sell it to Lutheran Social Ministries, the group that plans to turn it into affordable senior housing.

In order to do so, the township went through a diversion process, meaning the open space must be made up elsewhere in town. One of the spots chosen is the field in question.

However, the township found several encroachments and officials are telling residents they must comply with the requests for removal.

“We needed to send the letters out to understand where everybody was,” said Fred Turek, township engineer.

But Charlie Embler, Congemi’s neighbor, doesn’t understand how his fence is intruding on land that isn’t his. He installed a fence exactly where the previous owners had theirs for years.

“Why, after it’s been there forever, did it need to be moved?” Embler asked.

Embler and his family have lived in that Maureen Drive house for 15 years. In 1999, Embler said he got all the proper permits from the town to install a new fence—exactly where the previous fence had been.

Turek said residents should check their site plans to see exactly where their property lines end.

“I looked on my site plan,” Embler said. “I can’t find any notation that the fence is beyond my property line. It’s not listed on my plan that way. I have no reason to believe it was not on my property.”

Turek said somebody, somewhere, “didn’t follow the rules.”

“Whoever put the fence up either did it without a permit, or knew where they were putting the fence, thinking no one will ever touch it,” Turek added.

Well, that time has come.

The letters, dated April 18, gave residents two and a half weeks to fix the issue. Some residents resolved the problems but neither Congemi nor Embler have done so yet. Congemi said the township offered to take down his fence for him—which is about 3 feet past his property line. He agreed to that but said it hasn’t been done yet.

Embler, whose fence is about 2.5 feet beyond his property, said it will cost him $1,500 to get the fence moved. Their neighbor estimated hers at around $1,300, said Congemi.

Jen and John Waerig, who live on Delores Drive, weren't as fortunate with the estimates. They found out their playground structure, fence and shed are 12 feet over their property line. Allegedly.

"I would have thought the inspector would have made the previous owners move the fence," Jen Waerig said.

She and her family moved into their home in 2009. They inherited the fence and shed but installed the play structure. Waerig said they didn't receive the letter from the township until several days after it was dated. But when they did, they were "really upset."

"We weren’t aware of it, we had no idea," Waerig said. "We bought the house, the inspector came out and looked at the house. I don’t recall anybody ever saying that isn’t your property." 

Waerig said she and her husband made nine phone calls before finally speaking to Turek. In the meantime, the couple got several estimates that total more than $4,000. The deadline to move everything has passed but Waerig said she and her husband are waiting for Turek to get back to them about a new deadline.

"We love our yard, our kids love our yard, we’re going to be losing a significant amount of yard when we move the fence back," Waerig said. "Not to mention all the money we’re putting out. It’s really affecting us financially."

At Monday’s , members voted to waive any permit fees residents there could incur for new or moved fencing or structures.

“I was happy to hear that,” said Embler, who was at the meeting. “To me, moving the fence is the ultimate requirement and it’s probably going to come down to that it has to move regardless.”

Embler seemed more understanding of the issue than Congemi. Congemi had already knocked down one fence in his yard when PSE&G came in to say that trees on his property had to be removed. When he reinstalled a wooden stockade fence, he even moved it back about a foot closer to his house, he said.

“It wasn’t an issue then,” he said. “Until I got this letter.”

Turns out, according to the township, he was still over his property line.

“It’s not fair to penalize just certain homeowners,” Congemi said. “If you’re going to do it, you have to do it across the board.”

Congemi is referring to certain Hilltop Road residents who have sheds and other structures that back into a field where high-tension wires sit. The township, however, isn’t looking at that field for open space for the diversion process.

But Congemi thinks if the township is looking at whose items are on whose property, they should be looking everywhere in town.

“You can’t fight city hall,” said Congemi. “Especially in Cinnaminson.”

Township engineer Turek said he would work with the residents if they need more time to comply.

Congemi said once the township takes down his fence, he plans on buying the supplies and installing it himself. He just hopes he doesn’t get another letter—or worse, a ticket or court appearance—for not having a fence; Congemi has a pool in his backyard.

“I’ll end up with even more fees,” he said. It’s ridiculous.”

Dan May 11, 2012 at 08:32 PM
Take it all...............people should read the deeds. Township should now enforce this in all areas!!!!!! I sometimes wonder why I moved here. I blame former Mayor O and that administration for not catching it 15 years ago! Hire an attorney.......oh forgot I am in Cinnaminson. Bah Bah little sheep......
Eric P May 11, 2012 at 11:15 PM
Hilltop Road resident here. There are no common space fields on Hilltop. All the property under the power lines is owned by the homeowners outright. PSEG has an easement to areas under and along the wire route, but we own it. I, for one have a shed in the wire zone, and have both PSEG and Township approval for it. And no, the problem did not go away because PSEG did not force the issue. They forced it, and we forced back in court.
Nancy VanTwistern May 13, 2012 at 02:04 PM
When we bought our home about 12 yrs. ago we were told about the PSE&G right of way on our property for PSE&G...it is part of our property although we cannot build etc. on it. BUT, we maintain it and PAY TAXES on that piece of our property. Our property 'marker' is also, or was at the extreme right corner until the people behind us did some 'yard work. I sympathize w those who have to move their sheds etc. completely as someone, sometime, didn't explain the situation. For us, it doesn't matter but I completely understand their situation. I thoroughly enjoy the privacy it gives me from those behnid me. Just doesn't seem fair that 'some' have to go to all the expense in Cinnaminson when others are not at all affected. Seems you can't fight "big business", meaning PSE&G...
Skip McGlashon May 14, 2012 at 01:04 AM
Once again BULLY politics in Cinnaminson. This is what happens when there are no checks and balances. Those in power know that all will go their way, because no one in the system will question and those that do don't have the resources to continue to fight. I still have to question how so many of these homes had fences and structures existing on these lands and were sold and resold with no questions asks from title companies, the township or PSEG until it became an asset for Cinnaminson Twp. to make some cash. I'd love to see the paperwork for how the other property will be sold.
Bill O'Connor May 14, 2012 at 04:35 AM
Dan agreements with PSE&G existed long before 1998. PSE&G rights were hashed out when power lines went up many years ago. However, I do agree read your deed and everything carefully before you take action. If an attorney is warranted, pursue that course of action. You are only a sheep if you allow yourself to be treated as a sheep. I don't agree this should be considered open space.

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