Rumson resident Henry H. Bloom bought a big chunk of Gunning Island in 1988, mainly because he was afraid that somebody would put houses on it and wreck his idyllic view of the Shrewsbury River.
The transaction was an unusual one. Bloom had convinced the seller newspaper publisher Dick Scudder, whose family had owned their portion of the island for 62 years to donate the property to Scudder’s alma mater, Princeton University. Princeton, in turn, simultaneously sold the property to Bloom and his partners, Carl Gross and Anthony Calderone.
It was a winning deal all around: Scudder got the satisfaction of philanthropy, Princeton got a pile of cash, and Bloom’s view was safeguarded.
“I thought it would be fun to own it,” he told redbankgreen yesterday. “And I wanted to preserve it.”
But Bloom admits he was also tempted by visions of a windfall. There were taxes to be paid on his 20-acre piece of the 32-acre island. Plus, it had been used as a dumping place for dredge spoils. When the muck dried and winds whipped the dust east toward condos in Sea Bright, his phone would ring with complaints.
So Bloom and his partners had some engineering work done, which showed they could put at least six homes on the island. (Readers with long memories may recall that Calderone was then CEO of homebuilder Calton Homes.) If his view was to be ruined, Bloom thought, at least he’d be the one determining what he’d be looking at from his big house near Oyster Bay.
That had environmentalists worried, even if only a single McMansion arose.
“One plantation or mansion, with boat access,” said Cindy Roberts of the Trust for Public Land, pondering what might have been. “When you think of the personalities here, the huge houses in Rumson…”
Among the beneficiaries of the deal: the men of Boy Scout Troop 201, Rumson. Justin DeBernardis, Mike Roig, Ian Roberts and Sam Wilson, all students at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional, do the thousand-yard stare with Gunning Island in the distance.
“Any development out there was a concern to us,” said Rumson Mayor John Ekdahl, adding that a deep-pocketed builder might even have wanted to erect a bridge to the island. The borough owned the acreage not held by Bloom.
Development might have meant the end of an enclave for native flora, herons, deer and migratory birds.
All that was averted, though, by a series of transaction outlined at a rain-pelted press conference held yesterday in Sea Bright, with the low-lying isalnd as a backdrop.
In a deal with some striking similarities to the one that made Bloom an island owner 19 years ago, it turns out that Bloom and partners had donated their land to the Monmouth Council Boy Scouts in 2001. The scouts were so delighted that they put Bloom’s partner, Gross, on their executive board, and not long ago elected him their president. The scouts in turn last month sold the land to Rumson for $2.05 million.
Ekdahl said the land will be preserved in perpetuity. The borough’s intent is to institute a permitting process to allow for visits by kayakers, birders, student groups and other interested in exploring the site, he said.
“The significance of this is that we take the island out of play for any development whatever,” Ekdahl told redbankgreen. It also puts the island off-limits as a dump site for dredge spoils if and when the Shrewsbury and Navesink rivers are dredged, work that’s long overdue, he said.
Bloom, a 55-year-old owner of a commercial real estate company and a partner (with Gross, of Monmouth Beach, and Calderone, a Florida resident) in a company that owns and operates outpatient surgery centers, was excited.
“The Boy Scouts get a nice amount of money, and the island will stay in its natural state,” he said. “It was a win for everybody.”
The deal was brokered over four years by Roberts and Jan Wouters, an attorney for the scouts. It was financed by a $1.025 million grant from a relatively new federal program called the Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program; $775,000 from the New Jersey Green Acres program, and $250,000 from the Monmouth County Open Space Program.
The scouts netted $1.7 million after taxes from the deal, today’s Star-Ledger says. The money will be used to pay for scholarships, camping and other activities, we’re told.
The Trust for Public Land also announced yesterday the acquisition and preservation of South Brother Island, the last privately owned island in New York’s East River. The timing of the announcements was coincidental, Roberts said.