Vote expected today on sale of fairgrounds E. Brunswick official optimistic that fair association ‘will do the right thing’

Staff Writer

By vincent todaro

Vote expected today on sale of fairgrounds
E. Brunswick official optimistic
that fair association
‘will do the right thing’

The Middlesex County Fair Association is expected to vote today on whether to sell the 50-acre fairgrounds property on Cranbury Road to East Brunswick.

The vote has dramatic implications for the township, which has been trying to secure use of it for soccer since September, when the private nonprofit fair association announced it wanted to end the lease agreement with the township. The association and township representatives have since been privately negotiating the future use of the site.

Mayor William Neary said in December that the township would find a way to purchase the area, though other officials said they wanted to continue leasing instead.

Though Neary would not return phone calls for this article, Councilman Edwin Brautman said he was hopeful the fair association would vote to sell the property and sign a letter of intent.

"The fair association is going to do the right thing," he said. "It took us a long time to convince them what the right thing was."

Though the details of a potential sale are unclear, Brautman said the most likely scenario would involve the township’s purchasing all 50 acres and then leasing 12 acres back to the fair association so it could continue to hold its annual summer fair there.

"Why do they need to own and pay taxes on the other 38 acres?" he asked. "Buying all 50 acres and leasing back 12 is one plan on the table."

Despite officials’ hope that the land will be sold, Barbara Foerter, president of the fair association, remains opposed to selling the property and said last week that she believed the nine-member board of trustees would vote against selling.

Foerter said the only option for the township is to work out a new lease that takes into consideration the fair association’s concerns. Those include the township’s reported unwillingness in the past to abide by the part of the lease agreement stating that the group can schedule its own events over previously scheduled township events. The issue has been a point of contention that reportedly prompted the fair association to threaten to end the lease agreement in the fall.

Foerter and others have maintained from the beginning that the land is not for sale.

"The trustees have held to the opinion they do not want to sell," Foerter said, adding that the members are "pretty united in that opinion."

Negotiations with the township have been amicable, she said, but the issue has been cause for debate at public meetings as many people became concerned the township would lose the soccer fields — which soccer officials say are already in short supply.

"It’s almost like we’re being held hostage because the town has not done enough to provide fields for the town," Foerter said.

While they want their concerns addressed, association members do not want to walk away from this ordeal being known as the group that took athletic fields away from children, she said.

The association does not want to sell, in part because it needs the property for children in 4-H clubs, she said. The group donated 3 acres on the property to 4-H clubs and also built them a horse ring. The club holds animal shows on the site.

Brautman said the council was initially split over whether to draw up a new lease agreement or purchase the property.

"Now," he said, "every council member would like to buy the property."

Initially, he said, the association "was not even considering selling it. Once we convinced them to sell, it superseded everything else," he said of the council’s own debate.

Brautman said he would be in favor of condemning the property if the fair association decides not to sell it.

However, funding is still a question, though Brautman mentioned seeking grants in addition to using township funds.

"That’s putting the cart before the horse," he said of the financing issue.

David Stahl, president of the East Brunswick Soccer Club, which has lobbied for continued use of the fields, said the club is "anxiously awaiting the outcome."