2008-07-23 / Front Page

Majority in Manalapan gives nod to land deal

Committee's 3-1 vote adopts law for $1.4M purchase of property
BY KATHY BARATTA Staff Writer

A dd another piece of property to Manalapan's holdings. In a 3-1 vote with one abstention, the Manalapan Township Committee on July 16 adopted an ordinance to buy a 25-acre tract that lies west of the Manalapan Recreation Center and borders Englishtown.

The Route 522 property that is referred to as the Tillis tract has been the subject of litigation involving Manalapan since 2002. The parcel is owned by Joseph DuFour through his company the Providence Corp.

The committee's adoption of the ordinance was the first step in the settlement of the litigation that was brought against Manalapan by the Providence Corp.

When a previous governing body rezoned the Tillis property, that action reduced the number of homes that the property owner would have been permitted to build. That led to the legal action.

The 2002 rezoning changed the Tillis tract from R-1 (one house per acre) to RE-3 (one house per acre or light industrial construction).

A public hearing preceded the committee's vote on the ordinance. Manalapan will pay $1.4 million for the property.

Resident Butch Budai asked why Manalapan was buying the property for $1.4 million when the present owner had only paid $450,000 for the property when he purchased it in 2001.

Mayor Michelle Roth said two independent appraisals had assessed the land for $750,000 and for $806,000. She said Monmouth County has promised to provide $250,000 toward the purchase of the tract with "no strings attached," which the mayor said was not the case with New Jersey Green Acres funding.

According to Roth, the Green Acres program could contribute $375,000 toward the purchase if township officials want to solicit that funding. However, she said the state funding would come with "many strings attached," such as not allowing the construction of any structure on land which has been purchased with Green Acres money.

Manalapan officials have left their purchase options open while they determine whether to issue bonds for the purchase or use open space funding that has been raised and put aside by the municipality.

Roth and Committeeman Richard Klauber have said they would like to see the township lease the Tillis property to an entity that could use it as a recreational venue, such as a "bubble stadium" or a sports rink. That way, they reasoned, Manalapan would own the land and be in a position to prevent residential construction at the site.

"We get a chance to prevent more housing. This company (Providence) wants to build houses," Klauber said.

Speaking about the $1.4 million purchase price for the 25-acre parcel, Klauber said the agreement reflects the market appreciation of the property and was the essence of compromise.

"It's more than we want to pay. It's less than he wants to get. It's an opportunity to expand the recreation center. I look at it as an investment in the future," the committeeman said.

Resident Susan Heckler asked if environmental studies had been done on the property to make sure it was safe from any possible pesticide contamination given that the property had at one time been a working farm.

Committeeman Andrew Lucas responded to Heckler, saying, "We have a very competent attorney preparing the contract and any environmental concerns will be addressed."

Lucas stated his reasoning for voting to adopt the ordinance, saying, "Our attorneys advised us there was a fair chance, but not a great chance of us winning if we went to court."

Given the idea to lease the property, he said the purchase will "pay for itself in five years."

DuFour was present for the committee's July 16 vote and told the News Transcript that the adoption of the ordinance to buy the property was "good for everybody."

Roth, Lucas and Klauber voted to adopt the ordinance and to move forward with the purchase of the Tillis tract.

Committeeman Anthony Gennaro, who voted against the introduction of the ordinance on June 25, also voted against the adoption of the ordinance on July 16.

Deputy Mayor Susan Cohen, who voted for the introduction of the ordinance on June 25, abstained from voting on the ordinance on July 16. She said she was abstaining because she is a real estate agent.

"I'm going to abstain so I can't be accused of wanting more homes," Cohen said.

Cohen said she did not see the property as a potential revenue source.

Roth, Klauber and Lucas agreed that revenue received from any lease agreement entered into by Manalapan with a private entity could be used to pay off a bond or to replenish any trust fund money that might be expended for the purchase of the land.

They said the private enterprise itself could continue to serve as an ongoing source of revenue for the township.

The governing body also heard from two residents of Englishtown whose properties directly abut the Tillis tract.

Michael Merola and Michael Chapman, who both reside on McDonald Way, said they are concerned about any negative impact the suggested uses for the Tillis tract may have on their quality of life or the value of their homes.

The members of the governing body sought to assuage their fears.

"We would be ever mindful of our neighbors in Englishtown as well as our residents. We would be cognizant of being good neighbors," Roth said.

Klauber said, "I just want to go on record that my intention is not to build something that would have a negative effect on your property. There will be no bright lights shining in your back yard."

He promised that no matter what is placed on the Tillis property, the neighboring residents could count on "significant buffering."

Roth said Manalapan will issue a request for proposals in an attempt to come up with a commercial entity to lease the property.

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