It's now been one month since a fire broke out at a Jersey Shore landmark restaurant that destroyed much of the business.

Plans to begin to rebuild Caffrey's Tavern in the Forked River section of Lacey Township have now stalled.

Caffrey's was hoping to start the rebuild process right away but their zoning application to rebuild in their existing footprint was denied by the zoning officer due to a code on the books that states that the property must meet setback and yard requirements designated for that zone, according to figures provided to WOBM News by Lacey Township Business Administrator and Clerk, Veronica Laureigh.

Caffrey's zoning application. (Lacey Township Government)

One of the restaurant's co-owner Dan Coleman argues that they do meet the requirements, saying that over 50% of the structure is still in tact according to a licensed architect he had walk the site.

"It is his opinion that over 50% of the structure is not destroyed and that's what the code references under restoration," Coleman said. "The entire foundation is not destroyed as it's on a slab, that whole dining area in the front section that fronts Route 9 as well as part of the other dining room...the walls there are not destroyed and a good number of the tables there are still set. There was roof damage over the existing bar area but most of the walls are still fine."

Coleman is still looking for more clarification from the township on their reasoning for denying the application.

"Their reason was very vague, they mentioned that they're trying to get a towncenter application through the state and they're afraid that by allowing us to rebuild in the footprint, that it might jeopardize that application," Coleman said. "The written denial referred to to code 335-8."

Coleman says they're not asking the township to do bend the rules for them but follow the codes on the books.

"We're not looking for any special favors, we just want to be able to exercise our rights as pursuant to the codes and rebuild the restaurant where it's at," Coleman said. "I believe we're entitled to that."

His estimate is that Caffrey's could foreseeable re-open in about a years time under their plan but it would take a lot longer than that for them to demo and start all over again by moving the restaurant further away from Route 9 adding that several parking spaces would be eliminated as a result.

"We're not looking to expand, add on or change anything, we just want to rebuild in the current footprint," Coleman said.

The section of the code that ties into the application Caffrey's submitted was denied is due to section 335-8 which states:

§ 335-8 Compliance required.

A. 

No building shall be erected and no existing building shall be altered, enlarged or rebuilt, nor shall any open space surrounding any building be encroached upon or reduced in any manner, except in conformity with the yard, lot area and building location regulations designated for the zone in which such building or open space is located, provided that, notwithstanding any provision of this chapter to the contrary, accessory uses and additions may be constructed on nonconforming lots in conjunction with an existing residential use if the proposed accessory use or addition complies with the setback and yard requirements designated for the zone in which such accessory use or addition is located.

B. 

All uses and development of land shall be in accordance with all applicable provisions set forth under each Article of this chapter.

[Amended 2-14-1991 by Ord. No. 5-91]

C. 

Except as otherwise previously or hereinafter provided in this chapter, all uses and development of lands shall be in conformity with all applicable provisions of the schedules of limitations set forth under § 335-93, Schedules of limitations. [1]

[Amended 2-14-1991 by Ord. No. 5-91]

Lacey Township would benefit from Caffrey's being up and running, as would be the case with any other business, because their ratables would go up.

Coleman says Caffrey's is filing an appeal with the zoning board over the application being denied.

If they are denied at the zoning board meeting coming up later this fall, Caffrey's could take the issue to superior court and then all the way to state court should they choose to do so.

"If we're denied to do something I'm not just going to arbitrarily just give up those rights or let someone take them away from me," Coleman said. "I will fight for the rights if we're entitled to them."

Lacey Township Zoning Officer Loretta Rule has not returned multiple calls from WOBM News seeking comment and further information on Caffrey's application being denied.

There was nobody harmed in the September 5 fire that has been ruled accidental by investigators.

"It was ruled accidental, an employee had a flare up from preparing some food and it (the flames) just got out of control," Coleman said.

Caffrey's Tavern has stood for 24-years in the Forked River section and has been a place for food, community and fellowship.

"It was almost 24-years ago that we leased the building and ironically enough it was damaged by a fire under the previous owner," Coleman said. "We restored it and made it into what it has been for the last 24-years. It (the fire damaging Caffrey's) was like losing a very close family member and the most devastating part is for the 70-plus employees...the tears, the hugs...it was considered a family, the employees and the customers."

He says the support and help following the fire by others in the community is something he is eternally grateful for and Coleman hopes to restore Caffrey's to that very special place where everyone felt at home.