Preliminary plans to build a County park in the township were presented by Ocean County Freeholder Deputy Director John C. Bartlett Jr. to the Township’s Mayor and Council on March 26.
As he presented the plans, Bartlett, who serves as liaison to the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation, said that while the undertaking would take some time, a regional park would meet the needs of township residents and those living nearby.
“The last hole in the County park system was Manchester Township,” Bartlett told the governing body and members of the public. “When I first became a freeholder I set a goal to put a County park in reasonable commuting distance for all of our residents. This is an area that will now have a regional park that can be enjoyed by Manchester residents and those in nearby communities.”
As part of the project, Manchester Township would transfer to the County, three Green Acres encumbered lots. The County will reimburse Manchester for the purchase price and expenses of acquisition of one unencumbered lot and the County will pursue two privately held inholding lots.
“This will come together as a result of a partnership between the County and the Township,” said Bartlett noting he has quietly been talking to Mayor Kenneth T. Palmer about the project. “This project could not happen without Council approval.
“Working together, this will bring a lot of recreational and environmental benefits to the area,” he said.
“This will benefit our residents and the entire region,” said Manchester Township Mayor Kenneth T. Palmer. “It is something we have been asking for and something we have been hoping for.”
Bartlett said the use of the site ultimately would be driven by what will be allowed by any environmental restrictions.
However, it is anticipated because a major road (Ridgeway Road) divides the property that the County will create two separate Park areas. One will be a passive recreation area with walking, interpretive trails and picnic area with the other a more active area with possibly a soccer field, and other playing fields.
“What we try to do is fit the use to the land,” Bartlett said. “When the County builds a park it does a first class job.
“It will take a long time,” Bartlett said as the County proceeds with the environmental permitting.
A Pinelands application and approval will be required for the site.
There are two areas currently with endangered species that will be protected and not part of any development. The Ridgeway Branch of the Toms River flows along the Southwestern border of the properties. In addition, there is a 300-foot buffer off the edge of the wetlands.
With the environmental restriction, the County anticipates that there is roughly 120 acres of developable land for park development. Further environmental investigations will determine the exact amount.
Bartlett said the Board of Freeholders appropriated $6 million in its 2018 capital budget for costs associated with land acquisition, permitting, environmental assessment and planning.
Bartlett said this would be the first new county park built in many years.
He noted that in recent years, the county has been rebuilding and renovating park sites many of which were severely damaged by Superstorm Sandy in October 2012.
“The great recession and Superstorm Sandy resulted in a loss of 20 percent of the county tax base,” Bartlett said. “As we are now recovering the tax base and as the parks’ rebuilding nears completion, we can now dedicate our full effort to building a park in Manchester Township.”
Township Council President Craig Wallis noted that while it was very early in the process he welcomed Bartlett’s presentation.
“This will be a first class park,” he said. “This will be a very good thing for the township.”
“This will be a win-win situation for the county and the township,” said Councilman Charles Frattini.