Old Bridge officials target missile site for open space

By sue m. morgan
Staff Writer

By sue m. morgan
Staff Writer

OLD BRIDGE — Township officials are preparing to add the former Nike missile site to the township’s open space inventory.

On June 23, the Township Council introduced a bond ordinance that would authorize spending $227,500 to buy the 41-acre missile site tract from the U.S. government. A public hearing and final vote is scheduled for July 14.

The property, which vaguely resembles the shape of a hammer, is located off Route 9 South on the north side of Jake Brown Road. It consists of two parcels, one at 35 acres and the second at 6 acres. Those parcels are connected by a narrow road.

The site was used from 1955 to 1968 to guard the southwestern approaches to the New York metropolitan area. Army units manned the launching site, which carried 20 Ajax and 12 Hercules missiles, until it was closed as part of a national reorganization of the Army’s defenses.

Twelve abandoned, ranch-style homes that were once used for military housing are still standing on the property but will be demolished upon Old Bridge’s purchase of the land. The cost of demolition was taken into consideration when the final price was negotiated, Township Business Administrator Alayne Shepler said.

Originally, the federal government had only offered the 35-acre parcel to the township when negotiations for the sale began in December, Shepler said. However, over the course of negotiations, the seller decided to add in the six acres on which the 12 houses sit, she added.

The site is near the 1,100-acre Runyon Watershed, which the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders is negotiating to buy from Perth Amboy for $11 million to preserve as open space. That transaction is under review by the state’s Watershed Review Board and is expected to be completed by late August, said Don Perlee, Perth Amboy business administrator.

The former missile site is also located to the northeast of the as-yet-undeveloped Peter A. Mannino Park. The township is expecting to develop that park, located on Route 516 west, for passive and active recreation. The township also plans to eventually build a YMCA-managed recreation center inside the 165-acre park.

During a June 25 meeting of the township’s ad hoc committee charged with bringing that center to fruition, Councilman Dennis Maher suggested that a second entrance to Mannino Park and the YMCA could be created by allowing motorists to take Jake Brown Road through the Nike property.

With more than 4,400 families expected to join the YMCA, the township must find a way to remove some of the expected traffic from Route 516 to an alternative route, said Maher, who is chairman of the ad hoc committee.

"Jake Brown Road could be another possible access point to get traffic to the Y from Route 9," he said.

In addition, the former base is situated south of 2,000 acres owned by local developer John J. Brunetti, whose application to build a 1,504-unit residential development on his property is pending Planning Board approval.

In December, Michael Caffrey, chairman of the township’s open space committee, had recommended that the council move forward on purchasing the land for open space preservation.

At that time, Caffrey advised the council to enter sale negotiations with the federal government as soon as possible.

The market value and sale price of the Nike tract could increase if Brunetti receives Planning Board approval to build part or all of his proposed development, Oaks at Glenwood, Caffrey has said. The land could become desirable to a developer seeking to build retail or commercial space to support Brunetti’s development, Caffrey said.

The township’s master plan also shows that a new connecting road could be built to link Jake Brown Road to Jernee Mill Road in neighboring Sayreville.

In the 1970s, the U.S. government gave the land to the school district to build an elementary school on the site. Due to declining enrollments through the 1970s, the school was never built and the U.S. government took back the land in 1984.