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State accuses owners of multimillion-dollar 'palatial' home in dunes of violating land ordinances: 'It's outrageous'

'No amount of remediation will ever restore that property to the condition it was once in.'

'No amount of remediation will ever restore that property to the condition it was once in.'

Photo Credit: iStock

The owners of a palatial home who paid a boatload of money to illegally landscape their property may have to pay a whole lot more.

There are only 11 properties in the high dunes of Avalon, New Jersey, and the owners of one have been accused by the state and borough of removing more than 8,000 square feet of dune, according to the Cape May County Herald. In place of the dune and all its native plants, the new owners installed a grass lawn with a built-in irrigation system.

The problem is that it's an environmentally protected area, and the state and borough take their conservation role seriously.

According to borough ordinance, owners can't landscape without an approved vegetation management plan, which is meant to maintain the natural environment of the dunes. The goal is to plant and maintain native species. The owners entered into a management plan but didn't stick to the guidelines.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection first discovered the violations using a drone and served the owners with a notice of violation in January. The borough, after being notified, issued a summons, ordering the owners to appear in municipal court.

Native plants are crucial to any ecosystem. They supply food and shelter for local wildlife, including pollinators, which are responsible for much of our food supply. Native plants have also adapted to their given areas over thousands of years, so they don't need much maintenance, saving homeowners on water bills.

The owners reportedly paid $12 million for the property in 2022, and the Avalon Planning Zoning Board approved a proposal to tear down the existing home and build a new one, though the lawn was never mentioned. They did hire the borough's environmental consultant for the vegetation management plan, the one they violated, for over $96,000. Now, the violation could cost the couple $2,000 a day until the problem is resolved.

Speaking to the Philadelphia Inquirer, resident Elaine Scattergood said: "I'm delighted by what the state is doing. Surprised, but delighted."

Borough Council President Jamie McDermott said they'd do everything "to restore the natural vegetation that has been destroyed there."

But it might be too late.

Avalon resident Martha Wright said: "It is outrageous. No amount of remediation will ever restore that property to the condition it was once in."

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