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Seeking Revenue, Holmdel Mulls Selling Off Some Land

Under consideration is a 10-acre section of Cross Farm and three wooded lots off Plum Lane.

Looking to close a $2 million budget gap in 2012, Holmdel Township officials are taking first steps to prepare for selling some land.

Legislation was introduced on Tuesday to permit the sale of two township-owned areas on opposite sides of town. They are three wooded lots along a residential section of Plum Lane, located off Laurel Avenue near the Hazlet border; and an agricultural section of Cross Farm, off Long Bridge Road near the Colts Neck border.

"We will continue to have a revenue gap, which is not easy to overcome with [Gov. Chris] Christie's passage of the two percent budget cap," said Township Committeeman Eric Hinds on Thursday. The township looks forward to the day a new tenant occupies the Alcatel-Lucent property. "Meanwhile, we want to look at all our assets and see if we can sell something without ruining Holmdel's rural character. But I want to be real clear: we're simply investigating the option," he said.

Of the five members, Committeeman Larry Fink cast the sole "no" vote to introduce the ordinance, calling the move a "quick fix" to a budget problem better solved by controlled spending. Fink and Hinds serve on the governing body's Finance sub-committee.

On Jan. 19, a public hearing and vote will be held on the bill to authorize the sale of the three one-acre lots on Plum Lane, (known as Block 58, Lots 7,8 and 13 on the tax map) "and all or portions of" the 111-acre property off Long Bridge (known as Block 5, Lot 3.) Deputy Mayor Serena DiMaso explained at the Jan. 3 meeting that just because the ordinance exists, it does not mean the properties would necessarily be put on the market.

The Plum Lane lots, surrounded by houses and townhouse developments near Laurel Avenue and Middle Road, could be sold to a housing developer for $1 million, Township Administrator Andy Katz told the governing body at the meeting.

A 10- to 12-acre slice of the vast Cross Farm on Long Bridge Road could be equally lucrative, said Township Committeeman Hinds. A soccer training academy has "expressed interest" in the location for a "very concentrated" complex that would likely consist of three playing fields -- one of them turf and lit with lights. "It would be great to get a $1 million for it. Or a $1.5 million, which is what I think its worth. But we'd have to see what the recurring value would be, and the effect on the environment," he said.

Hinds said there is no talk of selling the rest of the Cross Farm, which has a historic house and barn complex and lays in peaceful harmony surrounded by Thompson Park across Long Bridge Road, the Cross Farm Park ball fields across Willow Brook Road, and the scenic Swimming River reservoir on its southern border. The Revolutionary-era Smock Burial Ground is located on the farm, along the road. "We'd never sell more than 10 to 12 acres, and certainly never to a developer," Hinds said.

Cross Farm was purchased by the township, partially with funding from the NJ Dept. of Environmental Protection Green Acres program. The land is restricted for recreation and conservation use only, unless special permission is granted by the state.

Fink doubts that selling off the "neighborhood woods" in densely populated Plum Lane area to a housing developer would justify the additional costs associated with educating more schoolchildren in town. "In the long term it may not make fiscal sense," he said.

He also expressed concern about the effect stormwater runoff from parking lots, fertilized fields or petroleum-based turf materials could have on the Ramenessin Brook that runs through the property and the Swimming River Reservoir, at the south of the property. "Any runoff would go into the drinking water supply," Fink said.

"If we're going to control taxes, which I think is the goal here, we have to control our costs," said Fink. "We should be very careful, very prudent when we negotiate contracts. In some cases, we have to eliminate services. Those are tough choices to make and often not popular. Another tough choice to make is to raise taxes," he said.

Editor's note: This story was updated to correct the description of the soccer facility. It would not include an indoor facility, according to Eric Hinds.

Deborah Madey January 06, 2012 at 01:05 PM
What potential long term revenue would the soccer complex represent to the town vs. the long term traffic patterns, environmental impact and costs. All factors need to be heavily considered since the decision is not reversible. While not a resident in Holmdel, I am a real estate broker in the area who has long maintained and studied land conservation through the Land Trust Alliance.
Joe January 06, 2012 at 01:12 PM
Big mistake to sell open space. Last thing Holmdel needs is more houses.
Alan W. January 06, 2012 at 02:55 PM
Besides being critical to our drinking water, the Cross Farm and Swimming River Reservoir sections are among the last remaining parcels that preserve Holmdel's rural heritage. It would be a crime to blight the area with the kind of traffic and parking problems Aberdeen faces at its Tab Ramos sports facility. And doesn't the Green Acres program prohibit land sales to for-profit organizations?
Anthony Cooper January 06, 2012 at 03:21 PM
Thanks to Patch for this informative article, and also to Governor Christie for imposing a 2% cap on the annual increase in each municipal budget. I believe Holmdel should trim its expenses (and services as necessary) to keep within this 2% cap. Holmdel should NOT sell its pubic lands to be used in a manner that generates more housing development, which will eventually yield higher school taxes and also more upward pressure on Holmdel's municipal budget. Furthermore, the reasons causing this announced $2 million budget shortfall need to be fully explained. Anthony Cooper
Kathy English January 06, 2012 at 03:36 PM
I am the GreatGrandaughter of Henry Cross and I also thought the Green Acres won't sell off anymore of my family land, and also was a big part of Holmdel History. I enjoy coming over to see the open space and take in what it was like here when my family was out from Sun up to Sun down working the farm and became of the well known Pototoe Farmer in Monmouth County. I think everything looks great now and you all have a nice place to play soccer and nice walking trails along it. Leave the rest of the land the way it was meant to be-Open space!
Thomas Scarano January 06, 2012 at 05:52 PM
I would imagine the TC is open to suggestions on how to trim expenses
Steve Strickland January 06, 2012 at 06:37 PM
This is a one-time, band-aid fix that does nothing to solve the underlying problem, but just postpones it for another year. And it will likely lead to higher taxes later on, actually making the problem worse. It is short-sighted and foolish to sacrifice open space that can never be recovered. I know the budget problem is extremely difficult (with most of the costs difficult to control), but this is not the answer.
Pam January 06, 2012 at 07:12 PM
A vehement NO to considering the sale of open space, which is Holmdels most valuable commodity. Sure, selling some land may fix some problems now, but once done, it is gone forever. Holmdel will be stuck with the ugly results for years, and years, and years. Explore cutting expenses before selling land.
bud January 06, 2012 at 11:45 PM
Why not combine the Planning Board and the Zoning Board? We are allowed to do it under the Municipal Land Use Act. Also, we could eliminate some of our "professionals" and combine their activities. The existing "professionals" should take part in any financial reductions required to balance the Holmdel budget by accepting lower fees. A smaller government never hurt anybody. All of the above holds for the Holmdel School budget as well. The "party" is over!
Pam January 06, 2012 at 11:53 PM
I totally agree Bud! TC - cut some of the fat before selling our land. Whats next?
Thomas Scarano January 07, 2012 at 12:26 AM
So what does the TC cut?
Tony Orsini January 07, 2012 at 04:17 PM
The TC should cut costs and spending, not these quick one time budget gimmicks that create dangerous precent and imperile our quality of life. When you break down what the financial gain is per household from this, it is insignificant and the loss is permanent impact. So why is the TC proposing...er, excuse me, "mulling" this (yeah, right...it's a done deal if we allow this to happen)? Political expedience: it will allow them to say "we saved Holmdel taxpayers (collectively) $X millions of dollars. It's been all about their political ambition, NEVER about what's good for Holmdel. DO YOUR HOMEWORK: CUT COSTS AND SPENDING. IF YOU CANNOT DO YOUR JOB, GET OUT. There are enough intelligent people in Holmdel who can do better than occupying space and time. Check out the poll. See you Jan. 19th, bring extra chairs.
Pam January 07, 2012 at 04:19 PM
Why not start with the BOE budget? I am not up to date on the current figures, but read the Independent article dated April 25, 2010 regarding the proposed 2011 BOE budget. At that time, Middletown and Matawan-Aberdeen proposed cutting positions and costs for their 2011 school budgets. True to form, Holmdel BOE proposed a HIGHER budget, which of course would translate into an increase in our taxes. At that time (and perhaps still now) 80% of the BOE budget was vaguely slated for salaries and benefits. Lets drill down on exactly WHAT benefits are included in these figures. Lets face it - there's a reason the budget is so vague. There is no incentive to provide Holmdel residents with specific details because it would mean the end of the "party".
Thomas Scarano January 07, 2012 at 07:04 PM
I agree. Mr. Fink as a member of the finance should offer suggestions on how to cut the budget.
Eve January 07, 2012 at 07:09 PM
BOE budget has nothing to do with the township one. The BOE budget actually has way more details in it than the township budget (do not read the Independent for that, go on the websites and look at the documents). And, if you look at the more recent information, BOE budget for 2011-2012 had a 0% increase in it. But trimming BOE budget will not help the township budget gap. We need our committee to look at the budget and see how our town got itself into this fiscal hole, and find the way out without selling irreplaceable assets.
Jennifer January 08, 2012 at 05:10 PM
Sounds like an idea worth exploring
Cory January 08, 2012 at 08:34 PM
How much would the pool club fetch? Now that place is a cash cow. Easy to market that facility. Sewered already. Presents no environmental issues. Lots of parking. Easy to get to. It just needs a serious spruce up. An investment that is easy to get paid back on for the buyer. Leave Cross Farm alone.
Mort Lipetz January 08, 2012 at 11:13 PM
An interesting observation concerning selling public Open Space by the Holmdel TC: We pay an Open Space tax that is supposed to be used to acquire land for Open Space in our town. If the TC is free to use that money to acquire land and then turn around and sell it "to keep our tax rate down" will they then claim that their brilliant tactic added money to the town's coffers without raising taxes? The goal appears to be the plugging of budget gaps with Open Space tax money. Is that a logical extension of using sewer funds for that same purpose not long ago? Those wily politicians don't miss a trick. I would like to hear about how they are looking into combining our police department and court with those of neighboring town some of which claim there is a lot of money to be saved in doing just that. Wouldn't that be a worthy effort? Mort Lipetz
Eve January 09, 2012 at 12:26 AM
Contrary to popular belief, not all the houses in Holmdel have swimming pools, and both children and adults like to swim in the summer months. The pool club is a very popular place for the township families, and, last time I heard, it is not a cash drain on the town. Once again, selling assets is not a solution, reducing expenses and/or finding new revenue sources should be.
Cory January 09, 2012 at 01:44 AM
Eve, you are right. The pool club is not a drain. Has never been. In fact, it is an underappreciated asset to the town as is the open space of Cross Farm. Hopefully, the TC will realize the ridiculousness of selling either. My regret is that they did not expand the pool facility further with the money it generated each year. It could be the really big revenue generator we need today to get out of this mess. Instead, pool profits were used to fund general township expenses in the moment to create the illusion of a balanced budget -and not to enhance a revenue generator for the future. For what it is worth...I do not own a pool either. Looking backward doesn't help though. So what now? They are going to have to cut, cut, cut.
Tony Orsini January 09, 2012 at 03:47 AM
And the other 4 TC members should do what? Twiddle their thumbs? Same old...
Tony Orsini January 09, 2012 at 03:52 AM
How about some of that good old fashion fiscal responsibility the TC majority touts as having such a knack for? Cut costs, cut spending. If they cannot, I can: elect me. But I won't do their work for them. They make their decisions behind closed doors and really don't care about our input. The budgets the Larry Fink administration adopted from 2002 thru 2004 had tax increases all under 3.5% in the face of declining state aid and increasing pension obligations.
Jeff Rossi January 09, 2012 at 11:43 AM
I'd love to see a comment from the respective party bosses that adds value without trying to throw the other party under the bus or the standard subliminal politicking statements. Really. Enough already.
Sean T. Dowd January 09, 2012 at 09:28 PM
Well stated, Jeff.
Tony Orsini January 09, 2012 at 09:43 PM
PAY ATTENTION NOW: Where are most of the costs incurred on the municipal side? Personnel and salaries. Go there eliminate OT, control expenses. Ask yourself what functions really need to be done 5 days per week. Do we really need leaf collection and all the equipment involved? Most folks I know have a lawn service or mulch. Then take a hard look at the efficient use of personnel and vital versus non-vital services. The rest is up to BOE.
JOHN GRANA January 10, 2012 at 03:45 PM
TC are you joking ?? This sounds very much like there is a political ulterior motive behind this !! Thanks for stepping up Larry. The traffic is already a #&%#$@& nightmare off Laurel & Plum during the rush. The schools are overcrowded and now the TC wants to develop the last few small parcels left of open space we have left here on the north side. Of course, because its not in "your backyard".
Jennifer January 10, 2012 at 04:16 PM
Well, we do not have a lawn service, and always seem to have a decent brush pile, and the leaves are WAY too voluminous to mulch. But. I would be willing to pay a reasonable amount for these services, and have not had to try and ascertain the fair market cost. I do see some merit in charging for usage. If you live in a fairly new development and have few mature trees, you may not have need of the town collection. Drop in the bucket I would think, but all possible avenues should be considered.
Tony Orsini January 10, 2012 at 04:32 PM
Thank you, John, for the reality check re open space being a premium in northern Holmdel. When I was a member of the TC, I had 2 of these properties put on the open space inventory list by the Open Space Advisory Council so we could get Green Acre funding for them (Mr. Blumenthal being my witness). Somewhere along the line between 2005 and the present they were taken off that list. I also now notice that the "open space" sign that was affixed to 2 of these properties has been removed. This renegade TC must be stopped!
Ryan January 10, 2012 at 10:06 PM
Hey Kathy, maybe if Henry Cross hadn't sold the property to the township in the first place you wouldn't have this problem.
JOHN GRANA January 10, 2012 at 11:52 PM
There are so many property listings for sale in Holmdel already.. Some have been for sale many years now.. I'm guessing the open space parcels at plum lane are very attractive is because their in a R-TH zone, more TOWNHOUSES, NO THANKS !!!!!!

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