NJ apartment complex evacuated after Ida landslide will be demolished

An apartment complex in West Orange, where 45 families were brutally evacuated this week due to a landslide caused by Hurricane Ida, will be demolished, the owner’s lawyer said at a community meeting on Thursday .

Lawyer Steven Eisenstein presented the evacuees with checks for returned security deposits, October rent and an additional $ 1,250 per unit to help cover relocation costs.

Eisenstein said his client’s conclusion that the Ron Jolyn Apartments on Northfield Avenue should be razed was based on recommendations from three engineering companies.

“It’s not that he has a choice,” Eisenstein said, referring to owner John Jakimowicz, who was not at the meeting.

The Ron Jolyn Apartments, a red brick garden apartment complex, were evacuated Monday evening by West Orange first responders and township officials, also on the recommendation of engineers.

It was hours after a township employee opened an email that had been sent Friday night warning that a steep, rocky slope behind the apartments was unstable and could result in property damage and ‘possibility of loss of life. “.

Mayor Robert Parisi hosted Thursday’s meeting at the Wilshire Grand Hotel, where some of the evacuees with families were accommodated at the township’s expense. As several evacuated children played on a hotel green, Parisi promised adults gathered in an outdoor courtyard that the township would continue to pay for their accommodation while they sought new permanent accommodation.

“We’re going to be here until each of you are settled in,” Parisi said, though when in a rush he declined to say for how long. “I can tell you that we are not abandoning you.

In addition to Wilshire, evacuees had also been accommodated as well as the Courtyard by Marriott hotel. But Parisi said they would all be moved to another local hotel on Saturday, The Cambria.

The evacuees used the meeting to express their anger and frustration with the evacuation, which took place between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. Monday evening and Tuesday morning, without warning the tenants, who had little experience. time to pick up what little belongings they could carry. And Parisi took responsibility for it.

“It was done poorly, I admit it,” Parisi said.

“Poorly?” tenant David Rodriguez responded. “It was unprofessional.”

At the meeting, evacuees were given contact details for Superintendent Ron Jolyn, a list of local apartments for rent, and information about a pantry and relocation services provided by the nearby Orange Ebenezer Baptist Church.

Essex County has loaned its mobile coronavirus test truck to the effort, for residents who may need proof of a negative COVID-19 test if they apply for a new apartment.

Steven Eisenstein, an attorney for the owner of the Ron Jolyn Apartments in West Orange, handed a check to evacuated tenant Joanne Lowe for the amount of her security deposit returned, her October rent refunded and $ 1,250 to cover the costs of moving house. Eisenstein said the owner had no choice but to demolish the apartment complex on the recommendations of three consultants, after the property was damaged in Hurricane Ida. He could tell when the demolition could take place.Steve Strunsky | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

The crowd of more than 100 included evacuees, clergy and local educators, as well as various officials from the township, county of Essex and the federal government.

A team from the Federal Emergency Management Agency settled in the hotel lobby to receive requests for relocation and other assistance from the evacuees. Residents may be eligible for FEMA assistance with Essex County’s declaration as a federal disaster area in the wake of Hurricane Ida.

Ida had triggered a rock slide at the base of the rock slope to the Ron Jolyn Apartments, damaging several parked cars and the apartment complex itself. The damage prompted an owner’s claims adjuster to have a slope stability analysis done by Langan engineering firm.

Langan’s analysis found that “the slope behind the apartment complex is not stable and there is a high risk of another failure, which would likely result in significant property damage and loss of life. possible ”, and recommended that the complex be evacuated immediately.

Although locals said the firefighters who carried out the evacuation were professional and considerate, they said it was a chaotic, if not frightening, ordeal that woke some of them from their beds and sent them all on an odyssey that was still far from over on Thursday, when the realization They Won’t Back Down was heartbreaking.

“No one wants to leave their house,” said Ken O’Connor, a 71-year-old retired PSE & G worker who had lived in his Ron Jolyn apartment for 32 years. “It’s like leaving the family.

For O’Connor and others, the evacuation was a far greater disruption than the storm that caused it. O’Connor was attending the meeting in a wheelchair and breathing through the portable respirator that compensates for his bronchitis and other breathing problems.

O’Connor, who is single and lived alone in Ron Jolyn, said he had to rely on a firefighter to drive him and his breathing apparatus to the Courtyard by Marriott hotel. O’Connor later returned to the apartment complex to collect his car, which he drove to Thursday’s meeting at the Wilshire Grand Hotel.

Orange West Evacuee Ken O'Connor

Ken O’Connor was among the evacuees from Ron Jolyn Apartments in West Orange. O’Connor, who suffers from bronchitis and other respiratory ailments, had lived there for almost 32 years.Steve Strunsky | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

“It was shocking,” O’Connor said. “It was like having a fire and someone coming up to your door and knocking, banging on it and ringing your doorbell. ‘Are you in there? Get up. Open up. ‘ It was about 11 a.m. 11:30 a.m. I was in bed, I fell asleep.

In contrast, O’Connor said he would have slept during the storm if a neighbor hadn’t called to let him know what was going on.

Some evacuees have complained that they should be able to back down at their peril. Many were unhappy with the short time they had been given so far to collect their belongings. They all rejected a waiver presented by Eisenstein that would have granted them access to the property, but required them to pick up all of their belongings within 10 days and release the owner of all liability while they were at the scene.

Eisenstein said he couldn’t provide a timeline for the apartment complex’s demolition.

One of the residents, Christopher Banks, who worked in real estate investing, warned his neighbors not to sign anything and not deposit their owner’s attorney checks before speaking to their own attorney.

“Not everyone is a sophisticated real estate person,” Banks said.

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Steve Strunsky can be reached at [email protected]

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