Toms River Residents: Keep Open Space Purchase As Woods

The lines separating properties for houses were drawn by township officials. (Screenshot by Chris Lundy)

  TOMS RIVER – Residents wanted to make sure that the 16.6 wooded acres neighboring Silver Bay Elementary School being bought by the town’s open space program will remain untouched woods and not be turned into a park or sports field.

  At an earlier Township Council meeting, the council voted to put the purchase forward for first reading. It takes a second reading, with a public comment period, for an ordinance to become finalized. It was during this comment period that several residents voiced concerns.

  Former mayor Mark Mutter, who lives in Silverton, explained he was mayor when the open space program was established. The language in the ordinance includes that land can be preserved for recreation. This was done to get the many athletic teams to support a vote to create the open space tax.

  Since that language still exists, he asked the Township Council to create different language for this purchase, removing the recreation option. That way, it would never be anything but woods.

  Officials said there were no plans for recreation in that spot, and there was no need for an expansion of nearby Silverton Park.

  “Put those words in the deed,” Mutter said. “It’s the largest remaining virgin woodlands in Silverton.”

  Township Attorney Gregory McGuckin said that unless the ordinance making the purchase is amended, it has to stay as it is.

  Paul Jeffrey, an Ortley Beach resident, was also concerned about the land’s future. He said he used to be on an open space planning committee in another town. They acquired land and then 10 years later the town turned it into a baseball field. He wanted to know what guarantees were in place. The current governing body wants to see it as wooded land, but what about future members?

  McGuckin said to elect people who want to see it preserved.

This township image shows the location of the property being purchased. (Screenshot by Chris Lundy)

  Stella Labatch, a resident of Lillie Road, didn’t want the purchase to move forward without protections.

  “I don’t trust anything that this town does,” she said. She didn’t want verbal promises, she wanted something in writing.

  Geri Ambrosio, who is running for mayor, asked if the county or state partnered with the town to help with the cost of the property.

  McGuckin and Council President Matthew Lotano said that time was of the essence in helping the school district during their budget season. Bringing in another level of government could have added a year to the purchase time.

  The school district sold the land for $4.4 million. The reason is that the state changed the way it doles out aid to schools. Every year since 2018, Toms River has received less and less. The district faced a budget hole for the 2023-2024 school year and selling this land was the solution.

  If pressed, the district might have had to sell the land to the highest bidder which means it could have been a developer who could have built as many as 49 homes.

  The land is located at 100 Silver Bay Road. On the tax map, it is Block 233.24, Lot 36, and a portion of Block 233.24, Lot 38.

  As they usually do when purchasing open space, the township will be paying the down payment and soft costs using funds generated from an open space tax of 1.5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. They will borrow for the remainder, and pay off principal and interest with the fund.

  Business Administrator Louis Amoruso said that there is currently a balance of $2-3 million in the open space fund.

  Councilman Justin Lamb abstained from these ordinances because his wife Ashley Lamb is on the Board of Education. The rest of the Township Council voted for it both times.