Brick Township officials this week took one of the many steps required to purchase and preserve the Breton Woods property, located off Laurel Avenue and Drum Point Road, which had been eyed for a 59-home development.
The 31-acre parcel of land was gifted to Visitation Roman Catholic Church, whose real estate holdings are managed by the Diocese of Trenton. The diocese had entered into an agreement with Texas-based home builder D.R. Horton to clear-cut the wooded area and construct 59 single-family home, but faced major opposition from both neighbors and environmental advocates who flooded planning board meetings to express their objections.
Ultimately, the township and county partnered to negotiate the purchase of the site from D.R. Horton, which was already under contract with the diocese to become its new owner. The agreed-upon price of $8.55 million will be covered by a township contribution of $1,710,000, with the remaining $6,840,000 coming from Ocean County. Township officials have said they are confident that a state grant could cover the majority of the municipal share of the project.
At a meeting earlier this week, the council unanimously authorized an agreement to purchase the property, and amended the capital budget to reflect the expenditure. The Ocean County Board of Commissioners voted in March to finalize their funding of the purchase, which will come from the Ocean County Natural Lands Trust, funded by a county open space tax.
The county’s Natural Lands Trust committee endorsed the purchase Jan. 25, paving the way for the commissioners to execute the sale. The site will remain open and preserved, except for six acres near the Osbornville Elementary School which will be used to create a municipal playground that will be open to the public.
Because of the complex arrangement of the land purchase, involving the diocese, Horton, the county and the township, multiple votes and budgeting measures have had to be dealt with. Township Attorney Kevin Starkey said the site is due for a final closing July 8.
“Existing trails on this site have been enjoyed by surrounding residents,” County Commissioner Virginia 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. Residents staunchly opposed the development application, which they said would produce traffic, raze a natural habitat and lead to flooding. The parcel was, however, legally zoned for the construction of single-family homes, with some doubting whether the construction could have been staved off in court if the planning board denied approval and builder litigated the matter.
Earlier this week, Toms River officials voted to preserve a 21-acre property, also owned by the Diocese of Trenton, adjacent to the Donovan Catholic High School sports complex on Whitty Road. That property was planned to be sold to a developer who would have been able to build 17 homes at the site, however church officials contacted the township to gauge interest in a public purchase before offering it to the developer.