Vernon authorizes Camp Sussex talks

| 10 Jun 2014 | 09:27

The Vernon Township Council on Monday night authorized Mayor Victor Marotta to begin negotiations for the township to purchase the abandoned Camp Sussex.

Councilman Dan Kadish and councilwoman Jean Murphy both voted against the project, while councilmen Patrick Rizzuto and Dick Wetzel, along with Council President Brian Lynch voted for negotiations to begin with TMF Funds, which Mayor Victor Marotta said owns the property after paying off the multitude of tax liens against it. Marotta said the property is free and clear of all liens.

Murphy questioned who owned the property, saying she hadn't seen anything at the Hall of Records revealing TMF as the owner of the property.

The property, as of Tuesday night, was listed as being owned by Camp Sussex, according to county tax records.

Both Kadish and Murphy praised the project's concept — according to the township Environmental Commission, would provide a park area for "passive recreation" in the township while also introducing the Great American Chestnut Tree back into Vernon — but Kadish said the township needed a concrete plan in place before negotiations began.

He asked how much it would cost to demolish or restore the necessary buildings and whether more DPW workers would be needed to maintain the park once completed

Marotta said the township was planning to add to the DPW workforce anyway because, due to a shared-service agreement with the township Municipal Utilities Authority, the MUA pays for two DPW workers to maintain the township sewer system.

Many residents, while expressing support for the project, were concerned with how much acquisition and demolition would cost.

Marotta said the township had less than $1 million remaining in open space funds. He said the asking price would be about half the remaining open space funds. Additionally, Marotta said estimates to do demolition work on the Camp Sussex property ranged from $150,000 to $500,000.

"We're asking businesses and people to Vernon Township, and we shouldn't be afraid to spend money on ourselves at this point," Lynch said.

During her second presentation before the council, Environmental Commission chairwoman Beverly Budz said the township has a $354,960 No Net Loss grant to replace trees cut down when the Tennessee Gas Pipeline was run through the township.

In addition to questions about costs, many residents questioned whether there would be public access to the small portion of the property that allows access to Lake Glenwood. Would the new plan allow public access to the lake?

"I moved into a private lake community with private lake access," said area resident Alex Wolujczyk. "I support the vision. It's a nice vision, but I strongly want no public access to the lake."

Marotta said that decision will either be made by a committee or by the council.

"I think that's part of the process," Marotta said, but said he would involve the community.

"There are a lot of people who would say, 'no no no, if you do that, I won't support it because I want access to the lake,'" he said.

Marotta said two years ago the last time the acquisition was discussed, the cost to buy back the tax liens would have cost more than $400,000. But Marotta said there were so many liens against the property at that time, he decided to walk away from the property.

Marotta said attorney Kevin Kelly interpreted the open space fund regulations could be used to purchase the property.

"As far as wiping out the open space fund completely, that will not happen," Marotta said.