Ocean County is considering the purchase of the Surf and Stream Campground near the border of Manchester and Toms River townships, the latest proposal that could see the crime-plagued property depopulated and returned to its natural state beside the upper branches of the Toms River.
The county has negotiated a $7.45 million sale price for the 20.10 acre site on Ridgeway Road in Manchester Township. The sprawling property is currently packed with dirt roads lined with campers, trailers and some tents. It was apparent that most areas of the campground were occupied by residents. Two ambulances were present at the site when a reporter visited the property following a meeting of the Ocean County Commissioners on Wednesday.
Under the terms of the arrangement being considered by officials, Manchester Township will pay $1.5 million toward the $7.45 million agreed-upon price for the property. The current owner will be obligated to remove the trailers and demolish all structures before closing.
“There are people out there,” said Commissioner Gary Quinn. “We don’t take ownership of the property until all of the work on the site is completed.”
Surf and Stream was purchased by a new owner approximately 12 years ago with plans to redevelop the site, which has been the scene of a high-profile murder and frequent arrests and police activity. Initial plans called for mixed commercial and residential development. It is unclear how many people are living within the campground, however Barry Bielat, the property’s owner, said in 2018 that there were no residents living there on a permanent basis. Most areas of the site appeared at least partially occupied Wednesday, and cars were parked along all of the dirt roads that weave through it. The Toms River quickly babbled while EMTs tended to their call just tens of meters away.
While the property has seen its share of troubles over the past several years, there is no disputing the natural beauty of the site. The county’s purchase will include over 1,000 feet of frontage on the Toms River, where freshwater fish species are said to be plentiful, and the location is adjacent to the Camp Albocondo, a former Boy Scout facility which was purchased for preservation by Toms River Township last year. Several other pieces of preserved property dot the landscape around the campground. County officials generally do not develop preserved land, however it is left available for public access where possible.
“When you see it on a larger scale, you can see the connection of green space, whether it be Natural Lands or certain types of easements,” said Anthony Agliata, the county’s planning director, showing the county commissioners a map of preserved lands in the area. “Sometimes when you see the county buying little pieces, it’s part of a larger plan to create a green belt.”
Agliata said the property’s zoning would allow dense multifamily development at the site. Several steps in the process of performing due diligence on the site remain, including a formal authorization for purchase, however work to bring the campground under public ownership is well underway.