Government solution for fort being sought Pallone proposing alternative to private development on Hook

Staff Writer

By gloria stravelli

Government solution for fort being sought
Pallone proposing
alternative to private development on Hook

Sandy Hook should remain open to everyone and should not be turned into a profit-making venture, according to Rep. Frank Pallone (D), who will meet with National Park Service officials next week to discuss ways to keep private development off Sandy Hook.

In comments filed this week on redevelopment plans for historic Fort Hancock, Pallone asked for a meeting "to discuss the possibility of a federal, state and/or local government effort that would avoid a corporate presence at Fort Hancock, but still restore the properties."

As he did at a June 1 public meeting, Pallone asked for assurances that nonprofits which formerly ran programs out of Sandy Hook offices would not be barred by redevelopment plans.

"After all," he said, "Sandy Hook is a national park, not a profit-making venture. And furthermore, our national parks are places for everyone to enjoy; not just the elite few who could actually afford the fancy restaurants, or bed and breakfasts that might some day be developed."

The congressman, who said he supports preserving the historic buildings but is concerned the fort will become "an unwelcome corporate park," will meet in Washington, D.C., with Russel Wilson, Sandy Hook superintendent, and Michael Adlerstein, northeast associate regional director for planning for the park service.

According to a spokesperson, topics for discussion will include the possibility of holding a third public meeting on plans to redevelop historic Fort Hancock.

Wilson said this week the park service has no plans for a third meeting or to extend the deadline for public comment.

Pallone’s comments were filed ahead of the June 15 close of public comment on the environmental assessment of redevelopment proposals for Fort Hancock, including that of private developer Sandy Hook Partners, LLC.

The park service has signed a letter of intent for a 60-year historic lease with the developer, which proposes to rehabilitate and adapt 36 buildings for a mix of uses including private office space, restaurants and bed and breakfasts.

Pallone has been instrumental in opening up to the public the process by which the park service has selected proposals to rehabilitate and reuse Fort Hancock’s historic buildings.

As a result of his intervention, the park service agreed to release the 22 redevelopment proposals submitted, the draft historic lease, extend the public comment period, and provide a traffic impact study. In addition, Pallone was responsible for getting the park service to hold two public meetings on the environmental assessment of the redevelopment plans.

Pallone said relying on corporate money is a source of concern, and questioned whether failure to meet profit projections would lead to the developer asking for more development. He asked for strict language in the lease and a shorter lease term to preclude further commercialization.

He reiterated a request that nonprofits like Monmouth County Friends of Clearwater, which was located at Sandy Hook for 25 years, and the Aids Resource Foundation for Children, which ran a summer program there for six years, be allowed to continue to use the park.

The legislator also restated concerns he expressed June 1 about the traffic impact of the development proposal.

"Anybody that’s ever been to the Hook knows that traffic is a nightmare during the beach season," he said. "Commercial development in Fort Hancock, I feel, will only exacerbate this problem."

As he did at the public hearing, Pallone criticized the findings of a traffic impact study conducted by the Federal Highway Administration which found the redevelopment would have "no negative impact" on traffic. He said the findings fall short because they are based on the presumption that planned improvements will be carried out, including the replacement of the Highlands-Sea Bright Bridge.

The public comment period began in February. Among the environmental and educational groups that have commented on the redevelopment proposals are the Sierra Club, New Jersey Chapter, Monmouth County Friends of Clearwater, and the N.J. Marine Sciences Consortium. By mid-week spokespersons for Clean Ocean Action, the New York/New Jersey Baykeeper, and the American Littoral Society said the organizations had not filed comments on the environmental assessment of the proposals.

According to Wilson, after June 15, the park service will review comments and publish responses. He said the process of analyzing input will take up to two months and will lead to a recommendation by Northeast Regional Director Marie Rust. If she agrees with the environmental assessment that the redevelopment would have no significant environmental impact, Sandy Hook Partners would have six months in which to produce proof that it could secure the financing necessary to carry out its proposal which would trigger the finalizing of the tentative lease agreement, he explained.

If Rust decides there will be significant impact on the environment, that would trigger an environmental impact study, he said, which would require a lengthy and more extensive analysis of the redevelopment proposals on the Sandy Hook environment.