Habitat for Humanity breaks ground on Upper Township property

BILL BARLOW For The Press | Dec 18, 2020

Originally published by Atlantic City Press

UPPER TOWNSHIP — On a vacant lot at the end of Redwood Avenue, muddy from the rain the day before, volunteers, brewers and staff with Habitat for Humanity in Cape May County broke ground Tuesday morning at a site planned for the latest Habitat home.

It takes some imagination to picture a home on the spot, and it will take both work and money to complete the project, set to be the 19th house build by the ecumenical Christian housing ministry in the county.

An initiative that has brought together 10 craft brewing companies in the county is set to help raise some of those funds, and the owners and staff of the breweries say they will also help with the construction.

This year, the brewing companies collaborated on a single beer, a robust porter being sold on tap and in cans throughout the county, along with T-shirts. The project is called The Beer that Built the House. Habitat officials hope to raise about $25,000 toward the roughly $150,000 it costs to complete a home.

About 30 people attended the groundbreaking ceremony, including representatives from most of the participating breweries. The event also was live-streamed for those who did not want to gather in person.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better day. The sun’s shining. Sorry about the muck, but that’s what happens on a build site,” said Sarah Matthews, executive director for Habitat in the county.

She began the event with a prayer.

“We ask that you transform these buildings into homes and bless and protect all who dwell here,” she said. Habitat describes itself as a ministry, but people of any faith or no faith can participate in the building process and apply for homes.

Set on a side road in the Marmora section of the township, the lot has woods on two sides. Apart from being cleared and having mounds of donated fill, there is little indication of the house that is to come. Bill Simeral, president of Habitat’s board of directors, said the foundation has been ordered and could be put in place in January.

According to Matthews, the project still needs some approvals from the township before it can be launched.

Habitat for Humanity relies on volunteer workers in building its houses, including the people who will eventually own the house. As Matthews has explained at public meetings in Upper Township, the houses are affordable, but the families who move in have a mortgage, held by Habitat, and pay municipal taxes.

The township donated the land for the project, and for a house next door. That house was donated last year by Adam Szyfman, of Avalon, and moved to its current location in Upper. The house looks completed from the outside, but interior work continues.

The township approved the donation in 2018 and a year later approved two more wooded lots on Ocean Avenue off Route 9. “You can’t do anything without the land,” Simeral said. Most of the other houses the local Habitat group has built over the past 30 years have been in Middle Township. He said they are in discussion with Wildwood about building there when the currently planned homes are completed. The Upper Township lots had met with some skepticism from neighbors. Municipalities have a motivation for donating land: The Habitat project counts toward their legal obligation to provide affordable housing. In 2019, neighbors close to Ocean Avenue raised questions about the process by which Habitat decides on which families will move into the homes. In 2018, however, the Township Committee received praise from business organizations and residents for donating property on Redwood. According to Matthews, Habitat has not yet selected a family to move into that house when completed.

Once that’s done, the work will move next door, Simeral said, at a faster pace than is usual for Habitat. He said the work has gone quickly next door, especially considering much of it took place during a pandemic.

Once construction gets underway, it usually takes months to complete a house, he said, with volunteers working a few days a week. This time, staff from the 10 breweries are set to pitch in.

Sometimes, cadets from the U.S. Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May work on the houses, he said. Board members took a turn with ceremonial shovels for the groundbreaking, each wearing a mask and a disinfected hard hat. After that, employees and owners of the county breweries took a turn putting a shovel in the ground.

Participating brewing companies include Cape May Brewery, the first and largest brewing company in the county, 7 Mile Brewery, Avalon Brew Pub, Bucket Brigade Brewery, Coho Brewing Company, Gusto Brewing Company, Ludlam Island Brewing Company, Mudhen Brewing Company, Slack Tide Brewing Company and Cold Spring Brewery.

Breweries are selling the beer either on tap, in growlers or in cans of 25.4-ounces, 32-ounce cans or four-packs of 12-ounce cans. Each can has the same design on the front, with room for the name of the brewery. Simeral did not yet know how much money has been raised by the project. He said he is not much of a beer snob but found the porter delicious and now wants to try it at each location. +5

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