Oceanport proposing new municipal complex at former fort

The proposed site is just off of Main Street, it is comprised of 13.25 acres (see below) and just over 48,000 square feet of existing office space.RENDERING: COURTESY OF OCEANPORT
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The proposed site is just off of Main Street, it is comprised of 13.25 acres (see below) and just over 48,000 square feet of existing office space.RENDERING: COURTESY OF OCEANPORT

By KAREN RAPOLLA
Staff Writer

Some changes at the former Fort Monmouth, which officially closed in September of 2011, are becoming apparent as roadways are preparing to open and properties are being sold.

“Things are starting to move quickly. The road is scheduled to open in mid January. The church was purchased by Triumphant Life Church Assembly of God,” said Oceanport Councilman Joe Irace. “We are still in negotiations with the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA) for a municipal complex. We plan on having meetings with residents as soon as all information is finalized and expect to review these proposed plans at the Jan. 19 council meeting.

“It has been much better dealing with FMERA this past year. Their willingness to work with and collaborate with us in doing what is best for Oceanport is a refreshing change to the way business was done in the past. Hopefully this effort will continue as we move forward with a potential municipal complex,” he said.

The roadway access, the major thoroughfare connecting Eatontown’s stretch of Route 35 at the former Fort Monmouth’s main gate entrance and Oceanport Avenue, has been closed since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The road is scheduled to be open for public access Jan. 17.

FMERA is working out security plans to provide basic security to the area, previously guarded by U.S. Army personnel. Also of concern is the deer population, which has exploded in numbers since the fort was vacated.

New Century Fort Monmouth gave an informal presentation about their plans for redeveloping some of the properties that are now located in Oceanport Borough in May of 2016. These plans include a continuing care/living facility for seniors, a small hotel and a 7,000-square-foot family-style waterfront restaurant. Also included would be a mixed-use structure of retail on the ground floor and medical or professional offices on top floors. They also proposed a paved walkway along the water for everyone to use and enjoy.

The council and attending residents were impressed with the concept and the plans to redevelop the area in a positive way for everyone. A green space with recreation, a riverfront boardwalk and centralized parking lot with 600-800 spaces would also be constructed.

Oceanport Mayor Jay Coffey shared the borough’s thoughts on this plan.

“The presentation that was made to the Oceanport Borough Council on May 5, 2016, and to the members of the public in attendance that evening was received with a very favorable reaction by all concerned. It is FMERA, however, that will have the final say as to whether or not New Century’s vision for the site is ultimately successful.

“From Oceanport’s perspective, it is a project that meets a public need, generates tax revenue without burdening our school system and creates jobs. What’s not to like? Of course, the devil is in the details, and the details will be set forth in the actual proposal that is submitted to FMERA. We’ll know a lot more when we know those details and also what other proposals were submitted,” Coffey said.

Oceanport is moving forward with their own plans to purchase a 13.25-acre site, with 48,000 square feet of existing office space, located on Murphy Drive, for a new municipal complex for the borough for $11 milliion. This will give the town the benefit of having its administrative offices/courthouse/police/public works/library (a branch of Monmouth County) and senior center all conveniently in one location. The former location at 222 Monmouth Boulevard was flooded during superstorm Sandy in October of 2012 and has been vacated since that time.

“We are looking to create a municipal complex, which would include a municipal building, municipal court, police station, public works department and vehicular facility, library, senior community center, ancillary community spaces, emergency management offices and storage, a community garden, our recycling center and committee/general-purpose meeting rooms,” Coffey said.

He further explained the progress of the negotiations.

“Oceanport is actively negotiating for the purchase of this 13.25-acre site. But, again, the devil is in the details and, while we have come to a broad-based understanding of what we are willing to purchase and what FMERA is willing to sell to us, the details are still being worked out.”

How close is the borough in finalizing this purchase?

“If this were a horse race, we’d be at the 16th pole. We would hope to start the rehab this spring and be in the site within 12 months of the start date,” according to Coffey.

The borough may offset the cost of the new $11 million purchase with the sale of 222 Monmouth Boulevard if that would benefit Oceanport, however, that decision is still forthcoming.

“If it makes sense financially and the sale of the property at 222 Monmouth Boulevard will result in development that will enhance Oceanport rather than detract from it, then, yes, we would look to sell the property to lessen the financial burden associated with the relocation,” said Coffey. “We are not at that stage yet. We have had the property professionally appraised, and we will use that appraisal as the floor for any Requests for Proposals in the event that we do put the property up for sale.”

A message Coffey would like local residents to hear is that plans in the borough are progressing.

“Oceanport is finally ready to move forward with a rebuild of its municipal complex. We’ve analyzed the costs and benefits — social, logistical and financial — with various proposed sites (Maria Gatta Park, 222 Monmouth Boulevard, Wolf Hill Park, East Main Street, Fort Monmouth) and benefited from the contributions of the civilian members of the Fort Monmouth Ad Hoc Committee and the input of the professionals who have studied the pros and cons of the respective sites.

“Our internal staff has worked tirelessly with our state and federal FEMA representatives to increase the amount of available funding for the rebuild from $3.9 million to over $5.3 million.

“We’re confident that by pursing parallel paths we have left no stone unturned and that we’ve minimized our costs and maximized our value. Even if we don’t come to a final agreement with FMERA for the purchase of the 13.25-acre property, we’re simply in a much, much better position to rebuild at one of the other sites,” he said.

The borough was recently notified by the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders that it will be receiving a $250,000 grant that will be used toward the acquisition of the municipal complex for the preservation of open space.

The borough’s former municipal site suffered extensive flooding during superstorm Sandy, rendering it uninhabitable. Currently, the borough’s court is sharing space in Shrewsbury, and the police department is leasing a building at Fort Monmouth that once served as a firehouse. FMERA has been working with the borough to help the process along by previously moving a county homeless shelter to an adjacent parcel of land at the fort.

In November of 2016, FMERA closed on the $33 million purchase of the parcels of properties at Fort Monmouth from the U.S. Army. FMERA now owns or controls the entire 1,126 acres at the former fort.

The sale with FMERA comes with an agreement for the Army to retain all statutory environmental responsibilities at the main post. There are pockets of land that are referred to as “carve outs,” which have been deemed unsafe and contaminated in certain forms. It remains the Army’s responsibility to maintain and continue to remediate these identified pockets of land, which will never be available for future sale or development and are blocked off from the rest of the properties.

The borough has been holding its public meetings at Maple Place Middle School’s library since the municipal complex on Monmouth Boulevard sustained major flooding during superstorm Sandy. The meetings are open to the public, and the next council meeting is Jan. 19 at the library. Oceanport residents are welcome and encouraged to attend this meeting to view a presentation of the proposed plans.