The Brick Township council on Tuesday night unanimously supported the introduction of an ordinance to issue bonds that will fund a portion of the cost of purchasing the 31-acre Breton Woods parcel, on which a developer proposed to build 59 homes.
The vast majority of the cost to preserve the sprawling property will be borne by funding from the Ocean County Natural Lands Trust, with the majority of the township’s portion likely to be covered by additional grants from the state Green Acres fund. The township, however, is obligated under the law to pass a bond ordinance to cover the cost of the project before the state issues a reimbursement.
Borough Attorney Kevin Starkey said the township and county negotiated with D.R. Horton, a Texas-based home building that remains under contract to purchase the tract from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Trenton. The land was donated to the Church of the Visitation decades ago, however the diocese is the ultimate authority on all church-owned real property. The deed for the property continues to reside with the diocese, though D.R. Horton handled the land preservation talks.
“They are the contract purchaser of the property,” said Starkey, referring to Horton. “We are acquiring the rights, through them, to the property. They are under contract to buy it but they have not closed on it yet.”
The township and Ocean County are partnering to purchase the property for a total of $8,550,000. The township will be responsible for $1,710,000 and the county will contribute $6,840,000. The township has also agreed to be responsible for the maintenance of the property. Along with the bond ordinance that financed the township’s share of the project, the council adopted a resolution that would allow the municipal government to receive $1.2 million in funding to offset the cost of the township’s share. Township officials are confident that the funding request will be approved by Green Acres.
As part of the agreement, the property will be subdivided, with the township receiving an apportionment of roughly 6.33 acres – or 20 percent of the total property. The township plans on building a playground and parking area on this portion. While the playground area will be located adjacent to the Osbornville Elementary School, the park will be owned and operated by the township and will be open to the public. The parkland will be permanently preserved.
The township has been in communication with the Trust for Public Land about the construction of the playground, officials said.
“We are beyond excited that we were able to work with the County and preserve this property from residential development,” said Mayor John G. Ducey. “From the moment that the development plan was announced, we worked to find a way to stop it. Purchasing the property was the only realistic option and we couldn’t have done it without the county.”
Ducey said he was struck by the fervor of residents who opposed the construction of the development and the high level of support residents’ held for the purchase, especially given current economic worries.
“I heard from so many residents that they weren’t concerned with the cost as much as preserving the open space,” Ducey said. “Everybody said, ‘that’s fine, it’s for our children and grandchildren and will remain open space.’ This is really a special time to be a mayor, when you hear from people that they care – not for themselves or the money that could be taken from their pocket – but for their town and their future.”
Willie deCamp, founder of Save Barnegat Bay, which was active in efforts to oppose the development, praised officials and residents for banding together.
“It really matters that you’re so strongly behind this,” he told council members during a public comment period, singling out a number of residents who led the charge. “I’ve never seen a group of people more fired up than the people here. It was inspirational – and they’re not grandstanding, they’re not rushing to the microphone. They just did it out of passion, and it’s really wonderful.
The council must hold a public hearing and take a second vote before final adoption of the bond ordinance, which normally occurs at the next council meeting. The Ocean County Board of Commissioners must also formally approve the purchase, which is expected to be completed at the March 10 board meeting.
“This is an investment in the future of our community and preserving the quality of life of our residents,” said Councilwoman Lisa Crate. “We are saving one of the largest remaining pieces of land in Brick from becoming dozens of homes. We are also going to be building a playground that will be enjoyed by future generations of Brick residents.”