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.