Vernon is moving ahead with the purchase of a Black Creek Drive property that will complete the township’s proposed trail system.
The township council on Feb. 22 unanimously agreed to buy 8-20 Black Creek Drive, also known as the Baldwin Property, from Thomas Hussey and Mike Hussey for $289,000. It will be used for open space and the trail system, which will include a bike trail.
Council Vice President John Auberger was absent because of a family emergency.
The township will be cleared to purchase the property only after it obtains a Phase 1 environmental assessment that shows the site is not contaminated, as well as a report reflecting the owners’ clear title to the property, and the attainment of open space funds to cover the cost.
Township Council President Harry Shortway said putting the trail on the Baldwin property will give it less of an incline.
“That will make it easier to walk because I really went to get passive recreation and get seniors on it and make it (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant,” Shortway said.
However, many residents objected to the purchase. Peg and Patrick Distasi, Beverly Budz, and Sean and Claraleon Clarkin are circulating a petition to get the ordinance approving the purchase repealed.
The petition says buying the property for open space contradicts economic development goals to bring in businesses that will lower residential property taxes.
Shortway countered that out of 172 parcels located in the Town Center along Route 94 and County Highway 515, 47 are vacant. Many are privately owned and have been vacant for more than 10 years, he said.
“The Baldwin property is not the last area to be developed,” he said.
The petitioners claim that the property has sewer access, but township officials say it is not in the Sewer Access Area.
Mike Furrey chairs the Vernon Municipal Utilities Authority but said he spoke as a citizen; he said water and sewer systems can’t be run to the site because the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has named it an environmentally sensitive property.
Officials also said the area is a bobcat crossing.
“Some of the sewer service area that had been previously approved by DEP, they asked us to look at because of bobcat crossings,” said Vernon Mayor Howard Burrell. “This is one of them. I don’t know what happened in the past, but that’s now.”
Burrell said the township realizes only $28 per acre from the property because it is assessed as farmland.
Sean Clarkin questioned the price The property isn’t worth $289,000 if it’s not being used for commercial property, he said.
“This property is useless, so why are we spending so much on this useless piece of property that the Baldwin family can’t get rid of?” Clarkin said. “Let them put the property on the market for a year or two, and let them see what they can get. Don’t give away taxpayer dollars because you want to get it down now.”
Resident Eric Gorovoy asked why the township needed to buy the property when in October 2020 it was given an easement for the trail project from an adjacent parcel owned by HRII Development Corp., which is owned by Andrew Mulvihill.
Shortway said the township abandoned the easement after receiving a letter listing the things it needed to do to get it.
“This is a good use of this land,” Shortway said. “It’s always good to wait and look at things. But if you want and wait and look and look, you have to eventually do things to move forward.”
“This property is useless, so why are we spending so much on this useless piece of property that the Baldwin family can’t get rid of? Let them put the property on the market for a year or two and let them see what they can get. Don’t give away taxpayer dollars because you want to get it down now.” Sean Clarkin