TOMS RIVER – Two documents were signed to pave the way for the township to acquire the Surf Club property.
The total price of the purchase will be $7.3 million, township officials said. This money is coming from a few sources.
In August, the Township Council passed an ordinance to authorize the payment of the Township’s portion of $685,000 from the Open Space Trust Fund. Taxpayers currently pay 1.5 cents per $100 of equalized valuation to fuel this fund.
Toms River’s portion will be offset and is dependent upon Ocean County’s $1.88 million purchase of Township-owned land located next to Cattus Island Park and the Ocean County College, which was authorized by a 6-1 vote back in January.
The balance, $6.615 million, would come from the NJ Department of Environmental Protection.
“It’s been a process but I’m happy to take another step toward completing the purchase of the Surf Club Property. It’s important to preserve this beachfront property for our residents and we expect to finish the acquisition in the fall. Open space preservation is and will continue to be a priority,” said Mayor Maurice “Mo” Hill.
The new steps include the signing of two documents. The first is a tripartite contract of sale to acquire the property.
Hill said he also signed a Memorandum of Understanding that states the township will assume management and use of the property once acquired. In the near future this will be supplemented by a more formal “Management and Use Agreement,” that will spell out the terms and conditions of the township’s management, including the installation of various amenities, such as the extension of the boardwalk, landscaping, restrooms, benches, and more.
The Township and the DEP are still in negotiations over the Management and Use Agreement. All aspects of the Surf Club transaction are expected to be completed by year end.
The Ortley Beach nightclub was destroyed by Superstorm Sandy and has remained closed ever since. Locals have urged the township to purchase it and turn it into a recreational area. There has been talk about having a gazebo and boardwalk (without amusements). Between the existing parking lot, and more that would be added, there could be 100 spots. The property, located at 1900 Ocean Avenue in Ortley Beach, is one of the few ocean-front tracts of land on the market. A developer had been circling it in the past.
The town had made an offer to the owner, but the owner thought it was worth more. This has led to an impasse where the town offered one amount, and the owner counteroffered a higher amount. As one councilman said, the town “won’t be held hostage” by the property owner. At one point, it was reported that an appraisal of the property came in at $6.3 million but the seller’s appraisal was for $8.3 million.
The Ortley Beach Voters and Taxpayers Association has been pushing for the purchase for some time.
“I’m incredibly proud that we have made this acquisition happen for the community,” Councilwoman Maria Maruca said. “I want to thank everyone involved for their efforts, especially the OBVTA. It’s taken many people and several steps but we are almost there, and the end result is one that was important to advocate for and will benefit all the residents for many years to come.”
Councilman Daniel Rodrick had spoken out against the way this was done. He said that he’s not against the purchase but he’s more concerned about the price. The public already has a beach. The government shouldn’t be spending money to buy off a private property owner and allow him to profit off of land that no one else wants to buy, he said.
Previously, there was an attempt to use the county’s open space fund to pay for the Cattus Island $1.88 million purchase but that fell through. Commissioner Gerry Little, who spoke on behalf of the Ocean County Natural Lands Trust Fund, said there was no reason for the county to buy land from a town to preserve it when the town can just choose not to develop it. He was concerned the trust fund would become a “political piggy bank.”
A spokesperson for the county said that the money didn’t come from the Natural Lands Trust. The money being used was originally in the 2019 Ocean County budget for acquisition and development of land. It’s a general budget allocation that circumvented this issue.
Funding was reallocated in the County’s 2020 budget, again for acquisition and development should a future need arise. The county therefore had the money available to purchase the tracts.