OCEAN COUNTY – The county is spending more than $1 million to preserve four parcels in Barnegat and Lacey as open space.
Throughout the year, the Ocean County Natural Lands Trust Fund Advisory Committee looks at property that may be available to purchase. If the property owner, governing body of the town where the property is located, and the county can come to an agreement, the land is purchased. The fund is supported by a county-wide referendum years ago where people voted to pay 1.2 cents per $100 of their assessed valuation into a fund for such purchases.
The following land is being preserved:
- The Lacey property is a small spot in the Bamber Lakes area. It is one lot, about half an acre in size. Since the neighborhood is mostly preserved, it would cost too much to develop, because the owner would have to pay for roads and utilities, Freeholder John Bartlett said. It costs $7,500, plus up to $51 for property tax adjustments.
- The Stichter property in Barnegat is 16.7 acres, and will cost the county $75,000, plus up to $552 for property tax adjustments. It’s adjacent to more than 2,000 acres that have already been preserved by county purchases and Wells Mills County Park, Bartlett said.
- The second tract in Barnegat is about 100 acres that fronts on West Bay Avenue. The total cost will be $555,000, plus up to $395 for property tax adjustments. The Pinelands Conservation Fund will contribute one-third of this price, leaving the county’s portion to be $370,000, he said. According to the Pinelands Commission’s web site, this fund was created with an agreement with the Board of Public Utilities. Essentially, in order to allow utility lines to go through part of the Pinelands, the utility company had to pay into a fund that would protect land elsewhere.
- The most expensive piece in Barnegat is being purchased from Lafayette Associates for $650,000, plus up to $3,400 for property tax adjustments. This property is about 20 acres on Barnegat Boulevard. It borders other protected land, such as Lochiel Creek County Park, Bartlett said.
The Lafayette property came up at Barnegat Township Council meeting in March. Residents referred to it as Barnegat Glen. The governing body had agreed to meet with the owner first before giving the county its approval, which set off red flags for the township’s Open Space Advisory Committee.
Dave Moore, an environmental commission and open space committee member, said he did not want to see homes on that property. The property has steep slopes that drain into ponds and eventually into the Barnegat Bay.
“Tax revenue is temporary,” he warned back then. After houses are built, there will be more need for schools and services. Houses don’t equal less taxes. “If it did, for all the houses they built, you’d think they’d be sending us money.”
The Open Space Advisory Committee hasn’t met in years, he said, adding that the town never told the committee that an offer had been made by the county to purchase this property.
The county Natural Lands Trust Fund is separate from the open space tax that the township would use to acquire and care for open space.
Another member of the Barnegat Open Space Committee, Jake Taylor, said he was on the Township Committee when the township bought land from the property owner to build Barnegat Boulevard North. The owner attempted a few different development plans, but was limited because he was never allowed to build a street into a development. Any homes would have to have driveways on Barnegat Boulevard.
The members of the Barnegat Open Space Committee were concerned that the Township Council would not give its blessing to the county to buy the land. The council members said that they were just doing their due diligence before making the decision.
Mayor Albert Bille said the developer wanted to sell the land to the town a few times. However, the town was not interested in paying high prices for land that might not have been easily developable.
Having the land preserved as open space would cost the township about $13,000 in taxes a year, he said.
At the time, Committeeman John Novak said that there is a small amount of Barnegat that can be purchased for open space. Anything west of the Garden State Parkway is protected by the Pinelands regulations, which are extremely strict about development. Anything east of Route 9 is under the Department of Environmental Protection’s stringent Coastal Area Facilities Review Act. That leaves the area between the Parkway and 9 for development. Or, to purchase as open space.
The property owner was given some relief by the town’s planning board so that he could make some development, he said. However, he is constrained now by modern economics and the logistics of the property. Homeowners would need to build bridges to reach their homes.
“Do we want a $2 million bailout for a guy who has a property he can’t build on?” he had asked.
Preservation of that land was originally proposed by the township years ago, but it never happened, said David McKeon, planning director for the county. The owner was asking a lot of money for it at the time. The owner had since come back with a much more realistic price.