Toms River officials on Wednesday night approved a plan to purchase a corner lot in the township’s downtown section in order to preserve it as a park.
The township council voted in favor of an ordinance that would empower the municipal government to purchase the property at 27 Washington Street either through negotiation or eminent domain. The governing body also passed a bond measure to fund the purchase of the parcel, as well as a separate plot of land on Silverton Road (see separate story).
The intent of the purchase is to preserve the open lot at the corner of Washington Street and Robbins Street that became vacant following a fire in 2013, during which the building on the site was destroyed. A small park was built at the site following the demolition of the building which officials say has become popular with those who live and work downtown, and they would like to see it remain as such. Though the existing park is open to the public, it is privately-owned and its owner has been seeking – thus far unsuccessfully – to develop it.
“It’s private property and was made to look the way it looks just as kind of a place-holder, but it’s not actually a township park,” said Township Planner Dave Roberts. “The plan it to keep it preserved as a park.”
According to tax records, the property was last sold in 2012. The ownership group, 27 Washington Street Associates, gained approval in 2019 to build a mixed-use retail and residential building, with a rooftop deck. The approval at the time called for the construction of a six-story building measuring 66-feet in height, but last summer, the owner returned to the planning board to request a greater height, rooftop bathrooms and an elevator shaft that would protrude above the rooftop deck. The board rejected the application, and no additional filings have been published since.
Roberts said the township will largely keep the property as it current stands, though there may be some landscaping and aesthetic improvements. A group of volunteers have been keeping up the site for some time, he added.
“People use it and we didn’t want to lose it,” Roberts said. “The only motivation for buying it is to just preserve it and continue using it as a park.”
In a separate measure, the council approved $2 million, mainly through bonding, that be appropriated for the purchase of 1585 Silverton Road as well as the Washington Street property. The Silverton Road property is being purchased for $1,040,000.