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Holmdel initiates study regarding Nokia property; preservation of historic antenna

HOLMDEL — At their Nov. 22 meeting, the members of the Holmdel Township Committee passed a resolution authorizing the Planning Board to investigate whether a property at 791 Holmdel Road may be designated as an area in need of redevelopment for non-condemnation purposes under New Jersey’s Local Redevelopment and Housing Law (LRHL).

Two weeks later at a meeting on Dec. 6, the members of the Holmdel Planning Board voted 8-1 to direct the firm of Phillips Preiss Grygiel Leheny Hughes to prepare a study to determine whether a study area comprised of 791 Holmdel Road is to be delineated as a non-condemnation area in need of redevelopment.

Planning Board member Ron Emma cast the only “no” vote on the panel’s action to direct the planning firm to prepare the study.

Emma said he believes the preservation of the property on Holmdel Road should be considered as part of the municipality’s open space plan and not as part of a possible redevelopment plan.

The property at 791 Holmdel Road contains the Holmdel Horn Antenna, a United States national historic landmark, among other structures, according to a press release from municipal officials.

The horn antenna is a decommissioned radio telescope that was developed by Bell Laboratories in the 1950s.

In 1965, Drs. Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias used the horn antenna in their research, which led to the discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation. This discovery by Wilson and Penzias provided evidence to confirm the Big Bang Theory of the origin of the universe and earned the duo the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1978, according to the press release.

Due to its direct relationship to one of the most important discoveries in the history of modern astronomy, the Holmdel Horn Antenna was designated a national historic landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1988.

According to the township’s press release, there has been significant interest among residents in preserving the horn antenna and maintaining a public right of access to the landmark.

The Township Committee’s action in November initiated a process under the LRHL which provides the township with powers that may assist it in an effort to preserve the Holmdel Horn Antenna, such as allowing direct negotiations with a developer to acquire property, according to the press release.

According to Township Planner Kate Keller, a principal of the firm Phillips Preiss Grygiel Leheny Hughes, the Township Committee’s authorization of a redevelopment investigation does not change the applicable zoning in any regard.

Rather, she said, it begins a comprehensive, multi-step process that will take place over several months.

Throughout the process, there will be public meetings during which members of the public will have the opportunity to voice their opinions and ask questions of the professionals involved, according to the township’s press release.

At this time, the property at 791 Holmdel Road is owned by a private developer and does not in any way belong to the township.

In the press release, Mayor Greg Buontempo was quoted as saying, “While the former Nokia property is now owned by a private developer, the maintenance and preservation of the historic Holmdel Horn Reflector Antenna remains an important goal for this Township Committee. We look forward to continuing to work with the property’s owners on developing a plan that takes into account the national historic landmark that exists within our community.”

During the Dec. 6 Planning Board meeting, Chairwoman Serena DiMaso suggested that residents who are concerned about the preservation of the antenna “should bring those concerns to the Township Committee (members) as they will be making the final decisions on those matters.

“This Township Committee will be just as aware (as it was regarding matters connected to the Bell Labs property) of the history behind that (antenna) property to Holmdel, to the state and to history in general,” DiMaso said.

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