Twp. considers selling

O&Y site back to county

By Jennifer micale

OLD BRIDGE — While an age-restricted housing development is no longer on the horizon, the future of one township-owned property is still uncertain.

At Monday night’s meeting, Township Council members considered a resolution asking county officials whether they were interested in repurchasing the 345-acre Olympia and Young (O&Y) property west of Englishtown Road. Named for the now-bankrupt developers who planned to construct 10,000 residential units between Routes 9 and 18, the township purchased its portion from the county in 1997 for approximately $1 million. The county still owns the bulk of the property, however, and plans to leave it as undeveloped parkland.

Township officials initially hoped to sell their newly acquired parcel to a developer for age-restricted housing. However, residents opposed any development at the site during a public meeting held last summer.

Without any consensus on the issue, Mayor Barbara Cannon recommended that the township sell the property back for inclusion in the county’s open space plan. Otherwise, the township must begin paying off the debt service, she explained.

Chief Financial Officer Himanshu Shah concurred, noting that the township pays 5 percent interest on the purchase each year. Unless returned to the county, payments on the principal would be included in the year 2001 budget.

"If we are not going to do anything with it, it is not prudent to continue interest payments on this property," he explained.

However, several council members were unwilling to contact the county before considering other options. Noting that the township may need the land in the future for recreational facilities or a school, Councilman Edward Testino said he would like to see a Recreational Needs Assessment completed before any decision to sell the parcel.

"Once we sell it to the county, the township has no jurisdiction over this property," he maintained, adding that the township could consider retaining a portion of the land and selling the rest back.

Noting that council members do not want to see a residential development at the site, Councilman Lawrence Redmond suggested that future recreational facilities may be an option, provided by a private entity.

"I just think that we have land that we could make some money on if we just played our cards right," he explained.

Councilman Roman Sohor, on the other hand, disagreed, noting that the property contains wetland areas near Matchaponix Creek. The nonwetland areas are irregularly shaped, making construction difficult and possibly harmful to the wetland areas, he said

Sohor also noted that the developers of Woodhaven have made open space commitments and will provide the township with property for a school. The developer has also made overtures toward the creation of a south Old Bridge branch of the library, he said.

According to Councilman Joseph Hoff, the property would be used for active or passive recreation if sold back to Middlesex County.

"The county has great bonding privileges. They can do more than we could ever do with it," he explained. "I’ve never seen the county put up six gas stations or a bowling alley."

While council President Dennis Maher said that the resolution was intended solely to gauge the county’s interest, several council members disagreed. By contacting the county about the matter, it may imply a more definite proposal than the council intends.

"That would be the wrong signal to send them," Testino maintained.

Council members voted 5 to 3 against the resolution at this point, saying that they would look into the issue further.