Toms River Township will use $1 million to buy four acres on Route 571 where the Jersey Shore Boy Scouts Council building sits, adjacent to Camp Albocondo, as the latest open space acquisition for the township.
The township council on Tuesday night agreed to reallocate $985,532 from an unspent bond ordinance to buy the property at 1518 Ridgeway Road, which contains the Hugh C. Clayton Scout Shop and district offices near the intersection with Whitesville Ave.
Mayor Maurice “Mo” Hill praised the land buy as one that not only blocks development on the site but that adds to the recreation opportunities for Toms River. “This could be a site that allows for canoeing and kayaking,” he said, adding that additional recreation offices could also be on site. The township already owns a portion old Camp Albocondo property — a portion which has the northern branch of the Toms River snaking through it — and this property is contiguous with it. The county owns another portion of the old camp ground. He said a total $1.1 million would be spent on the purchase of the Boy Scout site.
Township Administrator Lou Amoruso said that besides the building, the property is undeveloped and “pristine.” “It makes a lot of sense to protect that,” he said.
The mayor said the Jersey Shore Council of the Boy Scouts approached the township after a developer also expressed interest. Each BSA council also has an obligation to help satisfy the national, class-action lawsuit against the BSA, and the Route 571 property was one the BSA could sell to meet that obligation, said Hill.
However, the township council is also considering an ordinance that would lease the building space back to the BSA for a nominal fee, so the BSA could maintain their offices as part of a three-year lease agreement, said Hill. The public hearing on the ordinance is scheduled for Sept. 28, the full ordinance is now posted to the township website. The proposal would buy the land for $1.1 million, which it was recently assessed at, and lease the building to the BSA for $1. The lease would be 24 months, with the option to extend the lease for another 12 months.
The township previously showed its interest in the site in 2019, when it considered applying for Green Acres funding to purchase it. That move was scrapped after the Field of Dreams on North Bay Avenue became a priority for that year’s Green Acres funding application, said Amoruso. Mayor Hill added that reallocating the township’s own unspent bond money allows for more township control over how the site is used, compared to Green Acres control. The original money was approved as a $4.5 million bond ordinance for the purchase of 2 West Water Street, of which the $985, 532 was unspent.
The mayor said after the township council meeting that the building could be used as additional recreation offices for the township or meeting space. Currently there is a meeting space conflict at the township’s Riverwood Recreation building during the winter when Code Blue operates out of the building as a warmer center. Also, the existing township recreation office at the municipal pool is aging, cramped and in need of renovation.
The site contains the scout service center office building and meeting space, including the scout store as well as memorabilia from the Jersey Shore Council’s history and its unique architecture, dedicated in 1988. Also on the acreage are the natural resources and open space, but also the building parking lot and access road. Nearby starts the trail to the “Albocondo Tree Farm and Nature Preserve.”
“I could see this being used as a possible recreation building,” said the mayor. “We need to preserve as much of this land as possible,” he added, and mentioned that voters will face a referendum on Election Day to increase the local open space tax by 1 cent to fund more purchases like this.
More than 400 acres have been bought through the open space tax’s funding, Hill said. Recent purchases have depleted the fund, he added, while the threat of overdevelopment continues and real estate prices are booming. “We need that extra penny,” he said.
The ordinance reallocating the $985k passed unanimously and without council comment.