The other day I saw a headline that Vernon Township was considering the purchase of Camp Sussex on Route 565. My initial reaction was that it was a great idea. Every time I pass by that abandoned camp I wonder why such a nice piece of property is not being utilized. I then went to the Vernon Taxpayers Association (VTA) web site to watch the video of the town meeting to learn more about the proposal. The Vernon environmental commission did a nice presentation that showed many possible uses for the property that could benefit the entire community. Then several residents that live in the area showed support and raised some concerns. What followed is what prompted me to write this letter.
The mayor started talking about using part of the open space fund to purchase the property. He also cited a long history of illegal activity that takes place in the abandoned buildings. Then he asked the council to adopt a resolution, an item not on the agenda, giving him the authority to start negotiations to buy the property, “Procure it and Secure it." In a matter of minutes we went from a presentation to “Procure it and Secure it”. Councilman Kadish raised a multitude of reasonable concerns; where’s the plan, a phase 1 study needs to be made, what is the real cost, what types of pollution will need to be remediated, maintenance costs, a draft site for fighting fires, etc. Councilwoman Murphy stated that no deed has been filed with the county clerk and Camp Sussex is still the owner of record. The company the mayor wants to negotiate with is not the owner of record according to the Sussex County Clerk. Councilman Wetzel called these concerns “brickety brack over trivia”. I have no idea what that even means. An Internet search of the phrase resulted in zero matches. Of course Councilwoman Murphy is just a member of the council that has 20+ years in the real estate business. What could she possibly know about purchasing property?
The most telling question came from Councilman Kadish. He asked the audience “How many of you bought a house without an inspection?” Of course, no one raised their hand. The three other members of the council stated that they have the utmost faith in the mayor and voted to give him the authority to proceed with negotiations.
The mayor stated that more than 15 prospective buyers declined to purchase the property. This property has been up for sale for years. What is the urgency? Why would we start negotiating without doing a phase 1 (inspecting the property)? What reasonable person would even consider negotiating a price without knowing the costs involved in bringing the site up to current environmental standards? What about the underground oil tank(s)?
I want open space in Vernon. I especially like the idea of having a park that isn’t in the town center. This site may in fact be a great deal for Vernon. However, this is not the way to use our open space funds. This is a “Ready, Fire, Aim” approach. Are you willing to risk $500,000 for a purchase with no idea of what it is really going to cost before you can BEGIN turning it into a park?
If you are a Vernon resident, please take the time to view the June 9 council meeting on the VTA web site (http://vernontaxpayersassociation.com). You can’t view it on the Vernon Township site because the township has technical issues with making council meetings available for the residents to view at their convenience.