LACEY – Township officials are petitioning funds from the Ocean County Natural Lands Trust to be used to purchase land on Route 9 for preservation to prevent commercial and residential development.
Committeeman Mark Dykoff asked that the petition be added to the agenda of a recent Township Committee meeting as “in the words of our Township Historian (John Parker) understanding where you are you have to understand your history. When I began my terms on the Township Committee, we were going for Township Center designation. What that meant was CAPRA (Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies) had responded. That meant developers in Lacey Township were only able to develop their properties at 30% of impervious coverage.”
Impervious coverage is anything built on a parcel of land that prevents water from soaking into the soil, such as buildings and driveways.
“That was a hardship for Route 9. Our town center we consider as Lacey Road and Route 9. That is why it was difficult for commercial developers which is what we were focusing on, to develop along Lacey Road,” Dykoff added.
Dykoff said, “we applied when I first served as mayor which I believe was 2005 and we were knocked down by the DEP (New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection) and over the years it was kind of a crap shoot. We couldn’t apply anymore and to his credit, when Mr. (Steven) Kennis came on the Township Committee he picked up the torch and ran with it and all these years later we were finally able to get this designation. The problem is that the commercial window passed us by.”
He explained that commercial properties were no longer popular at the current time. “Developers don’t want to develop commercial property because they can’t rent them especially this past year with covid. What has really boomed is residential projects. We are faced with a number of applicants who would like to develop multi-family homes.”
He added that this has presented a problem in the township as two proposed projects “have been causing a lot of controversy. The main reason is traffic. Route 9 is way different then it was 15 years ago.” A project that received preliminary approval by the Planning Board is one that is planned for across the Applebee’s Restaurant on Route 9 calls for 68 town homes.
“There is an affordable housing component included which is required by the State of New Jersey. There are two problems here – of course the traffic, the other problem is, you can say it is environmentally sensitive but every piece of property in Lacey Township is contiguous or connected to environmentally sensitive properties. A little bit more there because there are wetlands,” Dykoff added.
He noted that project got preliminary approval due to approvals by the NJ Department of Transportation and the NJDEP. He said they will need to come back before the Planning Board to determine whether or not the approvals really change the project or if the Planning Board needs to issue new guidelines.
Dykoff addressed the commonly asked question of why Lacey can’t just buy the property saying, “well we’re not in the business of buying property. The burden will fall on the residents as we’d have to buy the property and we just don’t have the money and by buying the property we take the property off the tax rolls. One day commercial development will make a resurgence. When? I don’t know but in the meantime that project and another project where the old miniature golf course is next to the Japanese restaurant. This petition asks the county to use the Natural Lands Trust to purchase this property for preservation.”
The County Natural Lands Trust Fund is an account fueled by an open space tax on every piece of property in the county, except for exempt land like churches and parks. Towns will often ask the county to buy the land because the county has more money to do so. The county has a process for buying the land, which includes having the town sign off on the purchase.
“I think it is a good piece (of land) to do this because of the problems on Route 9 and that side of town the DEP or DOT are not going to require drastic changes to Route 9. I know it takes it off the tax rolls but I think on that side of town it would be a benefit to the township,” Dykoff added.
Committeeman Timothy McDonald agreed with Dykoff and said he spoke with Ocean County Commissioner/former Lacey Committeeman Gary Quinn about it “and he said it would be a good idea. He said if the first project is approved the Route 9 intersection would see congestion. “Forget about it, it is going to be ridiculous.”
Deputy Mayor Nicholas Juliano and Committeeman Kennis disagreed stating that the move would pull prime ratable property off the tax rolls and that alternative land could instead be used.
“Lacey Township is 80 square miles. We have plenty of other land that can be preserved. To set aside that piece of commercial property on Route 9, I just don’t agree with removing commercial property off the tax rolls,” Kennis said.
Mayor Peter Curatolo supported the idea of petitioning the county saying he also spoke with Commissioner Quinn. “We’ve been talking for decades about the need to widen Route 9
The vote to move forward on the petition passed.