By JOHN T. WARD
With the gates about to open for a piece of the $2 million doled out annually in the form of Monmouth County Open Space Grants, Fair Haven officials were preparing two horses Monday night.
Their presumptive entry: a bid to acquire and demolish a home on Third Street to create a parking lot at the northern end of Fair Haven Fields, where two baseball fields are considered hard-to-reach from the main parking lot.
But should a deal not come together in time, town officials plan to seek funding for improvements to the adjoining nature area, where volunteers have fought to curb rampant invasive species in recent years.
Under the grant rules, towns are permitted to submit just one application per year, and the preferred entry this time around is for the purchase of the property at 110 Third Street, said Mayor Ben Lucarelli.
“For the borough, it has a very strategic location,” Lucarelli said at Monday’s regular meeting of the town council. “We’ve installed two new ballfields in recent years, but they’re very far away from the parking lot.” While no design has yet been worked up for the use of the property, the concept is to clear it for parking, he said.
County tax records show the property is an acre in size and assessed at $323,300. An online listing shows the property priced at $599,900. An appraisal commissioned by the borough put the value at around $520,000, Lucarelli said, noting that he did not have the exact figure.
Monmouth County caps the grants at $250,000 per project, and requires towns to match the grant amounts.
No contract has been entered for the property, and shortly before going into a closed-door executive session with the council to discuss a possible bid, Lucarelli acknowledged that another buyer could swoop in ahead of the borough, “which is why we need this second option” of the natural-area restoration proposal, he told redbankgreen.
Based on an analysis prepared for the borough in 2008, the recommended removal of invasive plants and reforestation at the natural area would cost about $270,000 in today’s dollars, borough Administrator Theresa Casagrande, estimated. Adding a deer fence to the adjoining community garden and a bluestone walkway to connect sidewalks that now terminate at the Church of the Nativity on Ridge Road and Brookside Farm Road at Fair Haven Road would boost the cost to about $470,000, she said.
Noting that the borough would have to bond for its share of the cost, Casagrande said the overall expense could be trimmed by limiting the scope of the project. Dick Fuller, who heads a nature area committee, said that volunteers had tackled some of the work recommended four years ago, which should reduce the cost, he said.
Fuller advocated for bluestone path, as did other residents. His wife, Judy, praised the idea for the garden fence, the lack of which threatened to make the facility the “laughingstock” among nearby community gardens, she said.
Officials are expected to finalize their decision at the September 10 council meeting, in time for the grant application deadline of September 19.