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Saturday, July 20, 2024

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Agreement to Preserve 78 Acres of East Cape May Reached

 

By Jack Fichter

CAPE MAY — Following 17 years of litigation between the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and developers, East Cape May Associates, an agreement has been reached to preserve 78 acres of 96 acre Sewell Point for open space.
Under the settlement about 18 acres will be set aside for the development of 71 single-family homes along with 14 affordable housing units. Both DEP and Cape May are contributing to the $7 million purchase price.
Sewell Point is located east of Pittsburgh Avenue between the ocean and Cape May Harbor and is well known as a stop over for migratory birds. According to DEP, the parcel of land is the last remaining undeveloped, privately-owned property of its size in the state that is within walking distance of the ocean.
East Cape May Associates original plans called for 366 single-family homes on the property. DEP rejected permits for the development and the developer filed suit for an improper “taking” of its property by the state agency.
A settlement was reached through mediation presided over by the late New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Daniel O’Hearn. Mayor Edward J. Mahaney Jr. said the preserved portion would bear a monument crediting the judge for his hard work.
The American Littoral Society also participated in the mediation process.
Cape May and DEP can jointly pursue passive recreation projects on the parcel subject to consultation with East Cape Associates and the American Littoral Society, subject to permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The $7 million purchase price will be funded through a $2.2 million grant to the city from the Garden State Preservation Trust and a $2.2 million match from Cape May.
Mahaney said the city’s $4.4 million obligation would be covered by $2.2 million grant from the state Green Acres program with the county making payments on a $2.2 million loan.
The city has $1 million in the county open space fund of which it will use $200,000, said the mayor. The project will be at no cost to taxpayers, he said.
He said the city has been contributing a 1 percent tax open space to the county since 2001 and never requested funding for any land preservation projects. The open space tax has doubled the amount of funding received from Green Acres.
The settlement is subject to submission of permit applications by East Cape May Associates and review and approval from the Army Corps of Engineers.
If the project had proceeded with the construction of 366 homes, the city would have been responsible for installing water and sewer lines, a water tower and a police/fire substation, said Mahaney. Under the agreement for the building of 71 homes, the city is not responsible for installing infrastructure, he said, which could have cost $4 million to $5 million.
The construction of 14 affordable housing units will help the city meet state Council on Affordable Housing regulation under current and past obligations, said City Solicitor Tony Monzo.
The city’s Planning Board will address any zoning changes needed for the 71 new homes, said the mayor.
A number of participants in the mediation were present at a July 1 City Council meeting including Thomas Brodesser, a principal in East Cape May Associates. Brodesser constructed the Village Green development in Cape May.
He told the Herald he has owned the Sewell Point property since the 1950s. The 71 proposed homes would be upscale, said Brodesser.
Jack Plackter, attorney for East Cape May Associates, said there was still a lot of work to be done.
Monzo said the new home sites would measure 75 feet by 125 feet, the standard for the R-1 zone.
The preserved Sewell Point parcel will be managed by a third party and feature some trails and paths, said Mahaney. Adjacent city-owned property will be used for an observation tower, he said.

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