The Toms River Township council voted Wednesday night to introduce an ordinance allowing for the purchase of a 21-acre parcel of land in North Dover that will be preserved as open space.
The property is located adjacent to the Donovan Catholic sports complex near 1380 Whitty Road and, according to county tax records, is owned by St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church. The township will pay $3.7 million from its open space fund to purchase lot 3, a portion of a combined property that also includes the sports complex, which is not part of the acquisition. The property is located within the R400 zone, and could legally accommodate a 17-home development.
Real property owned by Catholic churches fall under the auspices of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Trenton. The purchase by Toms River comes shortly after Brick Township purchased a parcel of church-owned land linked to Visitation Roman Catholic Church where a 59-home development was proposed, facing major opposition from neighbors and environmental advocates. It was expected that, had the township not purchased the Whitty Road property, it would have been sold to a developer.
“The church reached out to us before offering the land for purchase by the public,” said Mayor Maurice “Mo” Hill. “I want to thank Pastor Fr. Scott Shaffer, for approaching us with what was essentially the right of first refusal.”
The ordinance allows for the purchase of the land through the township’s open space account, which is funded by an open space tax levied each year. Both the acquisition and accompanying bonding measure will require a public hearing and second vote before final passage.
“We have preserved land, for the first time in history, in all four wards over the last two years, and I’m very proud of that accomplishment,” said Hill.
The preservation received unanimous support from the township council.