Ocean County officials have approved the purchase of a 31-acre parcel of land in Brick Township that had been slated for the construction of 59 residential homes.
The county Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the preservation of the property last week. The site will be placed under a conservation easement, ensuring no development will ever take place there, except for a six-acre cutout where Brick will build a public playground off Drum Point Road. The county’s Natural Lands Trust committee endorsed the purchase Jan. 25, paving the way for the commissioners to execute the sale.
“There was extensive discussion and review of this land by the committee,” Commissioner Virginia Haines said. “The last step of the process was the action this board took [March 1], holding a public hearing on the purchase before voting on final approval so the land could be preserved.”
D.R. Horton, a Texas-based home builder, the contract purchaser of the site, accepted a negotiated offer of $8,550,000. Brick Township agreed to partner with Ocean County on the purchase. The township will provide $1,710,000, with the remaining $6,840,000 coming from Ocean County. Both the township and county will seek grant funding from the state’s Green Acres program. Brick officials believe the state grant, as well as an investment from a private land preservation organization, may fund the entirety of the purchase.
The site consists of over 30 acres of mature, upland, oak and pine forest, county officials found. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has identified the site as an area of special concern for the eastern box turtle, and it also serves as a important migratory bird habitat.
“Existing trails on this site have been enjoyed by surrounding residents,” Haines said. “Its permanent preservation will be enjoyed by the public.”
Preservation of the tract also protects a groundwater recharge area and prevents further development and stormwater runoff which would impact the environmentally sensitive Metedeconk River and Barnegat Bay.
The land is owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Trenton, which manages real property for parishes in its jurisdiction. The land had previous been donated to Visitation Roman Catholic Church. The diocese declined to negotiate, leaving the process up to D.R. Horton. To effectuate the property transfer, Horton must acquire the property before turning it over for public use.
Brick has committed to maintaining the entire property.
The agreement represented a bipartisan effort that began with grassroots campaigning from neighboring residents opposed to the development, with the help of Save Barnegat Bay, which became concerned with the runoff the site could produce.
“This preservation shows that it’s possible for all of us – no matter what side of the political aisle you are on – can work together in the best interest of the people that we serve,” said Commissioner Jack Kelly.