Troubled waters at Cranberry Lake

| 05 Sep 2018 | 01:49

By Mandy Coriston
— The Cranberry Lake Community Club brought its season to a close on Labor Day weekend under a cloud of controversy stemming from its recent declaration that all Cranberry Lake residents must take up mandatory membership.
The club has told residents that beginning in 2019, they will collect dues in accordance with New Jersey State P.L. 2107, Chapter 106, which governs the regulations of “common interest community associations”; this code was amended by the state in 2017.
Since the legislation was passed, the Cranberry Lake Community Club has filed a change of its by-laws with Sussex County, and retained the services of Eileen Born, an attorney with Dolan and Dolan in Newton who is well-known for her work with lake associations. A letter was sent to residents who live in what the club by-laws call the lake’s “historically designated areas,” and a public presentation was given in July to explain the matter. According to the presentation, Born approached the club first and advised them they must update their by-laws to comply with the legislation, which falls under the “Planned Real Estate Development Full Disclosure Act.”
Opponents counter that Cranberry Lake is not a planned real estate development, nor has the Cranberry Lake Community Club ever been a lake association. Leading the charge against the club is Kristine Cerza. She and her husband Mark have been residents of the Strawberry Point neighborhood for more than twenty years, and Mark’s parents have lived on Cranberry Lake for even longer. The Cerzas say there is nothing in their deed which would indicate compulsory membership in the Cranberry Lake Community Club, nor do they have interest in joining.
“We pay a lot in taxes to Byram Township and New Jersey to able to live lakeside,” Kristine Cerza said, “I have no need to use their beach or docks, and I wouldn’t gain anything. It’s not a homeowners’ association with snow removal or garbage pick-up.”
That’s the biggest problem, according to long-time resident Vincent Lauro.
“It’s a club. How can a club force people to join?” Lauro said, “I’ve been around here since I was a kid in 1957, and there was never any need to join.”
Lauro also wondered why a club that once did not allow for much diversity would suddenly want everyone to become a member.
“I was a member when I was young, but I don’t use the lake much at all now," he said. "Why would I re-join? They aren’t going to provide anything for me; no sewer, nothing.”
Lauro said he felt the club was trying to cater to summer visitors and was railroading year-round residents.
“I know they do the weed control,” he said, “but they aren’t telling anyone what the extra money would be for. There’s no accountability.”
Paul Zendzian, who has been in Cranberry Lake since the early 1970’s, holds a similar opinion.
“When I first came here, you needed a sponsorship to join the club,” Zendzian said, “But why would I join now? There would be no services provided to me, and it would cause me a financial hardship on my fixed income. Years ago, the garbage pickup used to be private, but now that’s included in my taxes.”
Zendzian is also a past member, having joined when his children were young.
“But they’re in their 50’s now, and long gone. I don’t see why I should have to pay now, and in fact, the club’s docks are a source of frustration for me.”
There is only one road in and out to Zendzian’s residence, and he says it’s often blocked as people put their boats in and out of the water. He feels this is a money-grabbing move on the part of the club.
“Maybe they just don’t have enough money to do what they want to do,” Zendzian said.
Roland ‘Ron’ Price, who has been lovingly called “Mr. Cranberry Lake” by his friends and neighbors, weighed in on the issue and offered an intriguing oral history of the lake. “I’d hoped we’d settled all this back in 1981,” Price said, referring to similar legal action which took place in that year, “The club didn’t win then, and I don’t think they’ll win now. But I don’t see any other way out of this other than court.”
Price explained a bit of the history of the lake community, and how his family had been there since the late 1800’s.
“James Frenche, of Frenche’s Grove- he was my great-grandfather. When the Cranberry Lake Development Company went out of business, all their property reverted back to the original owners,” Price said, “My great-grandfather got all of his property back that he’d sold them. The Community Club never owned anything other than the clubhouse.”
Price said he still maintains a membership in the club, because he has kids and grandkids who like to use the lake when they come to visit in the summer.
“I’ve known the president (Mary Seage) for many years," Price said. "I hope this lawyer isn’t leading her down the wrong path. I tried to talk to her about it.”
Price recently sold some of his trails to the club, because he said it was too much of an issue to do private upkeep.
“But now people are encroaching on the trails, saying other people can’t pass through,” he said, “There’s too much aggravation.”
As to whether or not the Cranberry Lake Community Club is a community association, Price was clear.
“No. No, but it could have been, had they set it up that way in 1925. But when the Community Club was established, and the Cranberry Lake Development Company went under, there was nothing in the property deeds to indicate mandatory club membership. There is nothing on record.”
Price also said the lake never belonged to the club, either, becoming state property when the Morris Canal system went defunct. The lake was originally dammed to be a reservoir for the canal.
Price said he understands the argument that all lakefront residents benefit from the CLCC’s weed management program, but he also thinks it could be managed by the state, or lakefront homeowners could just go out and clear their own weeds. It’s his sense that the club is experiencing financial demands and that the change in state code allowed them an opportunity to get more money for repairs.
“We’ll wait and see what the club wants to do,” Price said, “but I’m 99% sure this is going to end the same way it did in ’81. They didn’t take any recommendations from the people then, and they won’t take them now.”
Price figures himself as the longest-tenured member of the Cranberry Lake Community Club, but he won’t hesitate to fight back against what he sees as a situation which may backfire.
“I’d really hate for this to go all the way to court, and see the club go under. I have no qualms against fighting the governors,” he said, “but the whole thing just shouldn’t be happening. If this gets involved in a legal battle, I hope it just settles everything once and for all.”
It should be noted, the club is mandating that each resident pay individual dues on every property owned, and Price still maintains several properties within the confines of the lake.
The Cerzas don’t share Price’s wait-and-see attitude. Kristine Cerza wasted no time in gathering the names and addresses of affected residents and sent out a mass mailing asking those who shared her view to sign a letter and return it to her. Those letters went out on August 17, and by August 30, she’d received more than 70 replies. Many of those returning the letter included notes with their signatures, some angry about what they see as a power play by the CLCC, and some, much like Zendzian, concerned about money.
“There’s no verbiage in any of these deeds showing that the club has any claim to our properties,” Kristine Cerza said, “The state owns the lake, and we bought our house from an individual who bought it from an individual before them. Even though this used to be a summertime community, the Cranberry Lake Development Company dissolved almost a hundred years ago. And the Community Club is not the Development Company- they don’t own my land.”
The Cerzas say their likely next step is to have a meeting with all the people whose signatures they’ve collected.
“I’ve also contacted Senator Oroho and Assemblymen Space and Wirths,” Kristine Cerza said, “Senator Oroho got back to me almost immediately and said he would look into the matter.”
The Cerzas’ yard is plastered with signs and banners printed with CLCC circled and slashed through in red. It would appear the battle flag has been raised, and the Cerzas and their like-minded neighbors aren’t going down without a fight.
And the club's reasons for the mandated membership and its response to the pushback from residents?
Cranberry Lake Community Club President Mary Seage is referring all inquiries to their attorney, Eileen Born. Attempts to reach Born were unsuccessful.