Agreement will reduce encroachment on church

Staff Writer

Agreement will reduce
encroachment on church
Staff Writer

JACKSON — Score one for the little guy.

Representatives of Paramount Homes had insisted Pleasant Grove Road was in the wrong place and needed to be moved. State Superior Court Judge Eugene Serpentelli, sitting in Toms River, signed off on a court directed writ in January 2003 that approved the move.

However, parishioners at the small, historic Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church insisted that they own the land on which the road is located.

Paramount Homes is building a residential development across the street from the church.

Last week, the township agreed with the church and removed a row of stakes with orange flags that municipal employees had pre­viously inserted along church frontage to mark the planned relo­cation of the road.

For members of the church that was built in 1847, it was a victory that left unanswered questions. Parishioners spoke to a Tri-Town News reporter after services on Sunday.

"I’m not going to speak for the politicians, but money controls the world," said parishioner Ron Vader. "Something was completed [behind closed doors]. At least it didn’t happen."

"Knock wood and say a little prayer," said the Rev. Sylvia Masi, pastor.

Masi said a meeting was held in the municipal building on Aug. 19 among township officials and rep­resentatives of the church and Paramount Homes. She said the meeting was convened by the township after the developer had been contacted by the Tri-Town News. Mayor Sean Giblin, Public Safety Director Sam Depasquale and parishioners Raymond Snow and Stephen "Wally" Jamison were among those present, said Masi.

"They originally wanted to take away half the [church] parking lot," Masi said.

Instead, she said, the road will not be as wide and some land will be taken from the new housing de­velopment’s property to reconstruct it. Only 4 feet, instead of about 18, will be taken off church frontage, but no land will be taken from the cemetery, which is even older than the church, the reverend said.

"It was the solution I had antic­ipated," Snow said.

In 2001 the Planning Board de­nied an application made by Paramount Homes to build a 41-home residential development called Premier at Whispering Grove. The board cited traffic and environmental concerns as the ba­sis for its decision. Paramount sued and won. The victory included ap­proval of the original development application, including the reloca­tion of Pleasant Grove Road.

Pleasant Grove Road is not a county or state highway, according to Mark Autenrieth, a spokesman for the Ocean County Engineer’s Office. It is off Cedar Swamp Road, adjacent to East Fish Road, which links Trenton with the shore, according to Jamison, a former employee with the Ocean County Road Department.

Jamison, whose family roots in Jackson go back 200 years, said Fish Road was used by the Lenni Lenape Indians to travel from the Metedeconk River to the Toms River.

Despite the location of the church across the street from the proposed development site, church members said they had not known about the project.They only be­came aware of the development when they found a line of stakes along the circular driveway in front of the church and cemetery.

Attorney Raymond Shea, who represents Paramount Homes, said it was not unusual for country roads to have to be moved after surveys showed them to be in the wrong place.

However, church members assert that the road is not in the wrong place at all.

Parishioners said the township’s department of planning and zoning had not provided information they had requested about the project.

One week ago, Masi had been skeptical that the township would keep its word after brokering a resolution to the church and developer’s dispute.

"What worries me is that nobody moved the stakes," said Masi. "The guys with the heavy construction equipment weren’t at the meeting."

But by Sunday the stakes were gone. Masi was delighted to see the symbol of the planned housing development’s encroachment removed from church property.

"We thought it was a done deal," she said.

Masi said another meeting was scheduled to be held on Tuesday between municipal officials, the church and Paramount Homes to finalize the agreement.

Giblin confirmed the first meet­ing, but did not disclose details about the resolution Masi said had been reached.