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Saturday, July 20, 2024

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Cape May Point House Slated for Demolition

A “stop construction” notice was posted on the building at 100 Lehigh Ave.

By Karen Knight

CAPE MAY POINT – A “stop construction” order was issued July 19 and removed July 20, paving the way for the demolition of the 1900-era house at 100 Lehigh Ave., Cape May Point. 

The house, used as an office and auxiliary building to support Saint Mary by-the-Sea, a former religious retreat house, located across the street, is owned by the Sisters of St. Joseph. It was listed for sale Feb. 18, 2022, for $2.1 million.  

The property is one of several owned by the religious group in the neighborhood. They sold the property at 101 Lehigh Ave., where the retreat house is located, last year for $5.5 million to the Cape May Point Science Center, which plans to turn it into a science education center. The sale of another building next door, at 106 Lehigh Ave., is pending. 

According to Cecilia Rupell, director of communications and public relations for the Sisters of St. Joseph, they are under contract with a party for the sale of the St. Joseph Convent, at 100 Lehigh Ave. 

“In the process of the sale, we were informed by the Borough of Cape May Point that it will not permit transfer of the title unless an encroachment onto an adjoining lot, which we also own, was first removed,” Rupell said in a statement.  

“Once removed, the borough will certify compliance with its ordinances,” she added. “To address the concerns of the borough, we agreed with the buyer to initiate the demolition of all structures on the property to facilitate closing.”  

Rupell did not disclose the buyer. 

According to a Zillow listing for the property, the sale has been pending since March 19. 

Reportedly, a developer is buying the land and will build two houses on the two lots once the building is demolished and property sold. The current house was built in 1900. 

The stop construction order was issued by the City of Cape May July 19. The city shares services with Cape May Point, although Cape May Point Borough Zoning Officer John McGraw is the one who reviews all construction permit applications in the borough.  

McGraw responded via email July 18 to a resident inquiring about the demolition that he had not “approved or otherwise acted upon any request to demolish the structure,” nor had he “received any request concerning such demolition.” 

The work order was removed the following day, July 20. Multiple efforts to reach McGraw and the City of Cape May zoning official were unsuccessful before press time. 

Another adjacent property owned by the religious group, at 106 Lehigh Ave., is also under contract. That 4,847-square-foot home, also built in 1900, is being sold “as-is” and includes 18 bedrooms, five bathrooms, four powder rooms, two parlors, a dining room and kitchen. It is listed for sale at $1,750,000. 

Bob Mullock, who is active in historical home preservation in Cape May Point and the City of Cape May, and who established the nonprofit organization, which bought the former retreat home and plans to turn it into a science education center, said he expects to close on 106 Lehigh Ave. within the next two months. He plans to have a building on each of the two lots on the property, which will be used as investment rentals.  

“Some of these historical buildings in Cape May Point represent the heart of the community,” the former Cape May Point commissioner said. “People get used to it, and think they will be there forever, but then something happens, and they are gone. There is no waiting period for people to get used to the idea. Developers are fast on their feet to make changes.” 

Mullock said his family is “driving” several of the historical home “saves” by putting up the funds and then developing a nonprofit organization to carry preservation forward. He pointed to their efforts to save and preserve the Harriet Tubman Museum, in Cape May; Allen African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, also in Cape May; Owen Coachman House, in Lower Township, and the Saint Mary by-the-Sea retreat house, in Cape May Point. 

“We can’t fight every fight,” he said, “but we have been able to save some of the historic homes in the area. I was hoping some wealthy person would buy 100 Lehigh Ave., but that didn’t happen. While it has some major issues, it is structurally in good shape. Someone could have had an outstanding house for the price if they were able.”  

“The area has seen housing prices increasing and developers running rampant to buy the historical homes,” he continued, “and then buyers want a modern home to live in.”  

“We are doing the best we can to save the best places we can,” he added.  

According to the Cape May Point’s website, all property owners were given the opportunity last summer to participate in a survey about whether they wanted to establish a historic preservation ordinance or commission. Property owners were able to vote in person, online or by mail.  

While 186 people voted “yes,” it represented only 27% of total property owners, which was less than the 339 required to meet the majority threshold. Of those voting, 142 voted against the establishment of the commission and 350, or 52%, did not vote. 

Based on the survey results, it was determined there was not enough community support to move forward with a historic preservation ordinance or commission. 

To contact Karen Knight, email kknight@cmcherald.com. 

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