Neighbor loses his bid to preserve open space

Staff Writer

Neighbor loses his bid
to preserve open space
Staff Writer

LAKEWOOD — One man’s battle to preserve open space went down in defeat in a bidding war during a public auction held at the Aug. 5 Township Committee meeting.

At issue was a 2.5-acre wooded parcel next to less than an acre of land James L. Harrison owns. Harrison said he has been in talks with the township for several years as part of an effort to preserve all 3 acres as open space.

"(My neighbors and I) were willing to do something we felt would help the town," he said of the parcel, located off West Cross Street, behind Faraday Avenue on the Lakewood-Jackson boundary.

An agreement had been reached to purchase the land at its appraised value of $22,500, Harrison said. However, during the public forum following the second reading of an ordinance finalizing the sale, someone in the audience objected to it. The challenger said the parcel was large enough for residential development and that under state law, it had to be auctioned off in a public sale.

Harrison had objected to the auction before it began. He said that as the owner of the adjoining property, he had the right of first refusal.

Township Attorney Steven Secare said that because the land was at least 2 acres, that was not correct.

"You must compete," Secare said.

The opening bid was set at the appraised value of the land. Prior to bidding, Committeeman Robert Singer, who is a state senator, told bidders the property was deed-restricted and the only building that can be constructed is a barn. He also said the auction winner could not request a variance from the zoning board for a subdivision.

Secare said afterward that even if the land is rezoned, the deed restriction ensured that no residential development could be built on the parcel. He also said that no trailers could be installed on the property — only a barn.

Despite the deed restrictions, all three bidders indicated they still wanted the land. After several bids, one man dropped out. As the price rose, Harrison’s wife asked aloud from the audience why the remaining bidder, Moses Morales of Lakewood, also wanted the land. She received no answer.

At $27,800, Harrison requested a break in bidding to confer with his wife.

Singer again reminded bidders that the property is in a residential zone and that the winner must conform to local zoning. He added that the winner had to pay the township 10 percent of the purchase price up front.

When the bidding resumed, Morales matched Harrison $100 for each increase in his bid. At $50,100, more than twice the appraised value of the parcel, Harrison dropped out and Morales won the tract for $50,100.

Harrison said that just as surprising as the bidding war and his subsequent loss of it was the $12,500 cashier’s check Morales handed township clerk Bernadette Standowski to pay the down payment — more than twice the amount required.

Although Morales bid in two of the three auctions held that night and won only the first, Harrison said Morales took out three cashier’s checks when making the down payment.

When asked, Harrison said he did not know if Morales might have represented a silent bidder for the West Cross Street property.

Morales, who said he manages a grocery store, was asked several days later and said he was not representing anyone else.

When asked what he would do with the deed-restricted property, Morales said he didn’t know.

"It makes you wonder," Harrison said.

Morales then bid against Joseph Goldberg and David Birnbaum for a 0.17-acre parcel on Ocean Avenue that opened at $75,000. Goldberg dropped out at $128,600. Morales dropped out at $151,000. Birnbaum won the auction at $151,000.

Morales did not bid on the third parcel, a 1-acre parcel at Apollo Road and Mars Avenue off East Kennedy Boulevard, which was deed restricted for educational purposes. Rabbi Mordechai Babbah, the only bidder, won that auction at the starting price of $50,000.