Several farmland or undeveloped parcels around Riverwood Park and the North Dover to Pleasant Plains neighborhoods of Toms River are nearing purchase as part of land preservation efforts to block residential and commercial development.
Officials said several large parcels are already being looked at or where in a stage of negotiation previously, such as when the township council agreed on a $15 million bond ordinance for a land buy in spring 2017.
Township residents overwhelmingly approved a public question on the November ballot, asking whether they were in favor of the township buying 250 more acres for open space preservation. The question was to gauge public interest in open space land buys and was non-binding.
Councilman Mo Hill itemized which parcels were being eyed, and what stage in the land preservation process each were in, as he discussed open space efforts in his council comments at the November 14 meeting.
“We’re looking at specifically farmland, where we can get maximum acreage for preservation
He named more than 70 acres in those neighborhoods around the Route 9 corridor in the northern section of town, which has seen explosive development and project approvals over the last five years, leading into Lakewood and that town’s population boom.
As part of the spring 2017 bond, though multiple parcels were named for purchase, two have been secured, Hill said.
One of the larger parcels is the Guttman Farm on Route 9, at 35.18 acres including a poultry farm which for more than a month has had its roadside sign advertising a barn sale.
Last year, Henry Guttman, the owner of the generational farm and operational business, attended the council meeting where his farm was named for eminent domain and plead for better communication on whether the township intended to buy his property or pursue eminent domain. Previously, the parcel was eyed by a Lakewood developer for 100 townhouse units and additional commercial space.
Like the Guttman farm, the second parcel close to purchase by the township is near Riverwood Park and abuts Route 9. The Huppert Farm totals 19.7 acres in size, leading Hill to say that 55 acres are closing in on purchase by the township.
Hill said the county is seeking to purchase an 8.2 acre parcel known as the Boynton site on Route 9, as part of its open space funds.
The councilman also provided an update on the township’s pursuit of one of the last remaining horse farm tracts in Toms River, the former West Wind Stable on Cox Cro Road. In October 2016, the township approved an ordinance to spend $900,000 to buy the horse farm for open space.
Hill said that 7.7-acre farm was currently tied up in eminent domain litigation, but nevertheless was among the land inventory the township was working to preserve.
Finally, another 10-acre site on New Hampshire could become open space, he said. The township is investigating the site, which has a willing seller, Hill said, without going into further detail.
“We’re looking for even more property, particularly those in farm areas,” Hill said. Most of the remaining rural character of Toms River is concentrated in the northern sections of town.
Hill, also in his comments, criticized the state for its plans for Route 9 improvements at Church Road and Whitty Road, as “trying to put a band-aid on a hemorrhaging wound” by putting dedicated left-turn lanes and other improvements there, instead of pursuing the dualization of the state highway – two lanes in each direction. Much of this stretch has only one lane of traffic each way.
Councilman Al Manforti said clearly issues with overdevelopment dominated the conversation in the local election, where he and two other councilmen lost their seats to Democrats. However, Manforti said the township has been actively trying to counter the tide of overdevelopment in the last couple years, such as the land buy efforts but also by rezoning areas of town.