BERKELEY – After contentious local government meetings, litigation and other opposition, a project that would have built multi-family housing on Route 9 was killed by a land purchase with open space funds.
The 13 acres that would have been cleared to become Berkeley Family Apartments will instead be absorbed into the county’s Florence T. Allen conservation area as open space, officials said. Of the $865,000 price, half of that will be paid by the county and the remaining through the National Trust for Public Land.
The county held a public hearing on the purchase in December, and will proceed with title searches, a process that takes about a year before the final ink is dry, said Ocean County Freeholder John Bartlett.
An affordable housing project, Berkeley Family Apartments was proposed as an 88-unit, 11-building apartment complex on 13 acres on the northbound side of Route 9 near John F. Kennedy Boulevard. BFA, an LLC under the Walters Group, was planning to build the 11 buildings, a tot lot, clubhouse and outdoor recreation.
But the proposal garnered opposition from residents throughout Berkeley and neighboring towns such as Ocean Gate and Pine Beach, who said they feared the already choked Route 9 corridor would see more traffic and unsafe conditions, and felt it an inappropriate use of Sandy funds and payment-in-lieu-of-taxes that the developer had proposed applying for. A petition against the plan earned thousands of signatures.
The township took the developer to court in 2015, after plans were twice heard before its planning board. The planning board approved the complex with a 3-2 vote, after previously denying it, then being compelled by the court to hear the plan again.
After that, both the township and the developer sued in separate litigation, which proceeded to the appellate division.
Meanwhile, Mayor Carmen Amato and Berkeley officials were advocating for the county to use its open space funds to preserve the land. The county made its move after the national land trust agreed to jointly pursue buying it as open space.
Bartlett said the purchases use the county’s Natural Land Trust fund to buy land in need of preservation that is often at risk for development.
“We don’t care who we buy it from, the important part is does it fit the program and is the price right,” said the freeholder. Negotiated prices come based on current value but the process often takes so long that the county will wait until real estate markets decrease before making an offer, he said.
Bartlett said the parcel will be used similar to the way the Florence T. Allen conservation area is now – preserved open space, not a parkland.
The public hearing on whether to use the open space funds for the BFA land also included hearings for other parcels in Ocean County for preservation. Each of the land buys are funded through the open space tax property owners pay.
The other land buys are:
Near Wells Mills County Park and the scout campgrounds in western Barnegat and Waretown, plans to use $635,000 in open space funds to buy the 95 acres.
An 11-acre site in Manchester in the Roosevelt City neighborhood which Bartlett said complements a previous open-space purchase the county made there. $105,000 price.
A small parcel in Beachwood surrounding government offices there. The two small lots are less than a quarter acre in size. County would buy for $500.