Ocean County officials say an application, if made, will be reviewed to see if acreage owned by one of the township’s fire companies qualifies to be purchased by the county’s Natural Lands Trust. But they also criticized township officials for passing a resolution last month urging either the county or a private group to make the purchase.
The 11 acre property, owned by the Pioneer Hose Fire Company, was set to be sold to a real estate developer last year, but the deal fell through. While the sale was pending, neighboring residents began urging the fire company to consider selling it to a preservation group since it would prevent overdevelopment in their neighborhood off Drum Point Road and would extend an area already preserved as open space by the township.
The fire company wants to sell the tract to raise funds for new facilities.
“We have a very old building, we need lots of renovations, and we needed a six-bay addition,” said Vincent Pischettola, a member of the fire company who addressed the county freeholder board this week. “All that costs about $800,000.”
Freeholder Director Jack Kelly said the fire company can make an application to a committee that reviews open space purchases, but the company’s desire to make money will not sway the decision either way.
“What they will consider is if it is a good purchase for our open lands project,” said Kelly. “What we would not consider is why you want to sell it and what your needs are. If the property you want to sell makes sense for our open space program, I’m sure it would be recommended to our governing body.”
Earlier this year, the Brick Township council passed a resolution recommending the county purchase the land, which elicited some blowback from Freeholder John C. Bartlett, who has shepherded the county’s open space efforts over the years.
“The township did not have an interest in acquiring the extra six acres it self, and essentially kicked the ball down the road,” said Bartlett. “Brick probably shouldn’t have done that.”
Bartlett said Brick should have proposed becoming a partner in a potential purchase.
“When someone puts money on the table, it makes it a much better deal,” said Bartlett. “I guess we will be in touch with Brick, but this became a public discussion before it probably should have.”
Mayor John Ducey has said he does not favor the township investing money in the property.
“My administration is not interested in purchasing additional land,” said Ducey. “We see how that has worked out for us in the past.”
Ducey cited the cost of the Traders Cove Marina and Foodtown acquisitions as reasons why he would not be open to using township funds to preserve the site.
Kelly, as well as Bartlett, advised the fire company to make its application to the Natural Lands Trust and emphasize the positive reasons why the land should be preserved – especially the fact that it backs up to an existing tract of open space.
“You can walk from the back of my house, through their property, through the Green Acres property,” said Jessica Dykman, one of the neighboring homeowners. “It’s an amenity to us as Brick Township residents.”
“I don’t know what will happen, but I do know it should go to the proper review first,” said Kelly.