The Roman Catholic Diocese of Trenton, poised to sell dozens of acres of property it owns near the Church of the Visitation in Brick Township, told Shorebeat that if Ocean County is seeking to buy the land, it must negotiate with a real estate developer selected to build 59 homes on the property.
Ocean County officials have told Shorebeat that the county’s Natural Lands Trust would likely have an interest in preserving the land, which is adjacent to wetlands and other conservation areas, but as a matter of policy it does not condemn or forcibly take land for preservation. The tract is located off Laurel Avenue between Mantoloking and Drum Point roads.
Tax records obtained by Shorebeat indicate the land is still is in the hands of the diocese by way of Visitation. No deed transfer has been executed on the property, according to records from the Ocean County Clerk’s office. Rayanne Bennett, spokeswoman for the diocese, clarified its plans moving forward and addressed the question of preservation for the first time.
“The parish is under contract with D.R. Horton – and has been since 2019 – for the sale of the 34 acres, on which the developer intends to construct single family homes,” Bennett said. “Once the sale goes through, the parish has no role in any proceeds from development, etc. It’s just the sale of the land.”
The diocese, in other words, has not simply hired D.R. Horton – a national construction firm based in Austin, Tx. – to build homes, but they plan to convey the entire parcel to the company so the subdivided lots can be re-sold to new homeowners.
“As the parish is under contract, any proposals for alternate uses of this property have been referred to the contract purchaser – D.R. Horton,” Bennett said. “The parish would not be able to breach the contract without potentially facing serious penalties.”
Last month, environmental advocacy group Save Barnegat Bay urged its members to oppose the project at a meeting of the Brick Township planning board and call the diocese to urge them to sell the land to the county. The planning board meeting was postponed and will pick up at a new location after so many members of the public filled the room that it would have violated the state’s open meeting law to continue.