fh-robards-houseThe property, seen here from the river beach, is at the foot of narrow DeNormandie Avenue, right. (Click to enlarge)

Amid concerns from some residents that Fair Haven is about to create a riverfront park with access issues, borough officials last night forged ahead while throwing a late wrinkle into the plan.

The newest twist: closing on the $1.2 million deal whether or not $500,000 in offsetting grant money comes through first, if at all.

fh-robards-debateOffering their points of view Monday night were Pat Drummond, left; Pete Ross, center; and Councilman Jim Banahan, flanked by John Lehnert and Jerome Koch. (Click to enlarge)

That suggestion, by Councilman Jon Peters, was approved by five members of the six-person council and amended the terms of a proposed bonding ordinance that was to have been voted on last night. A final vote is now expected at a special meeting of the council to be held on August 24.

Peters expressed concern that making the purchase of 78 DeNormandie Avenue — the site of the Charles Williams/Robards family house, one of the town’s oldest residences — contingent on the availability of state Green Acres or Open Space grants might result in a rare opportunity slipping away. The town doesn’t have a contract on the property, and another buyer could beat the town to a deal, he said, all but killing what proponents see as the last, best chance for Fair Haven to create a riverfront park.

“I don’t think this is the type of acquisition that should be at the whims of the state,” Peters said.

Backers of the Peters plan said that the town would still pursue grant funds. Yet there was also talk of the benefits of the town buying the property without any help from the state or Monmouth County, including leaving it free of any limits on how the land might be used. “We could even flip it,” Mayor Mike Halfacre said, apparently in jest.

The vote came after more than two hours of public comment, both pro and con, in a packed council chamber. Proponents of the land buy cited a public policy goal, expressed in the town’s Master Plan dating back to 1991, of acquiring land on the Navesink River for public use. Peters and others argued that the borough was fiscally fit to absorb the cost, and that the purchase price was below appraised values.

“This may be the last opportunity we have for a park on the river,” said resident Lawrence Quigley. “It’s just serendipitous that it’s so close to the large borough public parking lot” on River Road.

But the audience appeared evenly split on the move. Opponents argued that there was no clear plan for the use of the two-thirds-of-an-acre property, other than general statements that it would be a ‘passive’ park with a bench or two. They also said it was unrealistic to expect visitors to park their cars at the River Road lot, which is about a quarter-mile away, and that it would saddle cash-strapped residents at the worst possible time with added taxes.

Resident Deborah Macock, noting the narrowness of DeNormandie, said she had visited the site and “I got back in my car and realized I couldn’t turn around. I’m most concerned about accessibility.”

The vote on the Peters amendment appeared to signal the council’s ultimate decision, however.

“If the primary goal is the acquisition of the property, then we need to take down all the potential barriers,” Councilman Chris Rinn said regarding the grant stipulations.

Jerome Koch cast the lone ‘no’ vote. He had previously expressed concern that the council put in writing what it intends to do and not to do with the property once it is acquired, including whether it plans to allow parking on the site.

Koch said he was opposed to any parking other than a single space for use by handicapped visitors; otherwise, the lot would simply be used by customers and of Fair Haven Yacht Works, on the opposite side of DeNormandie, he said.