Meetings will address public’s concerns about Hook project

Meeting on historic preservation issues planned for October


Staff Writer

The public will get two more chances to ask questions about the proposed redevelopment of buildings at Fort Hancock by a private developer.

On Saturday at 2 p.m., Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., will moderate a public forum at the Post Theater at Fort Hancock.

At that time, members of the public will be able to air their concerns about any aspect of the proposed redevelopment of 36 historic buildings by private developer Sandy Hook Partners (SHP), he said.

In mid-October, the date has not yet been set, the National Park Service will co-host a public meeting focused specifically on historic preservation issues related to the redevelopment.

The meeting will be held in conjunction with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the N.J. State Historic Preservation Office, according to Richard Wells, Sandy Hook deputy superintendent.

Pallone, who has mediated the contentious public process surrounding the NPS’ awarding of a 60-year historic lease to the private developer, said Tuesday he would attempt to keep the atmosphere at the forum informal.

“A lot of people still have questions about this proposal, particularly about the procedure involved and what the park service has agreed to in the lease agreement,” he said.

“It’s basically an opportunity,” Pallone said. “The NPS will be there, Save Sandy Hook will be there. There hasn’t really been that much discussion. People will ask questions and make comments and it will allow us to have conversations. It’s one of those rare opportunities where the two sides can have a give and take in an informal setting.”

Opponents of the redevelopment proposal say the plan will privatize and commercialize Sandy Hook and have a detrimental impact on the surrounding area.

Close to 3,500 people have signed petitions circulated by Save Sandy Hook which seek to block the development . SSH has hired an attorney who has said the group is poised to take legal action to block the development.

Supporters of the redevelopment argue that the NPS does not have the funds to save the historic buildings at Fort Hancock and the redevelopment is the only way to save them.

After the NPS failed to keep Pallone in the loop when it signed a lease with James Wassel, head of SHP, July 9, the legislator dashed off a letter to NPS headquarters in Washington, informing NPS Director Fran Mainella that he would hold a public forum to address concerns about the redevelopment. At that time, he asked that a high-ranking official from the Department of the Interior attend.

Mainella is sending associate regional directors Robert MacIntosh and David Holenberg.

Pallone said Tuesday there will be a sign up sheet at the door and people who wish to comment will do so in that order. He said there would not be a time limit on comments relating to Fort Hancock.

The historic preservation meeting will be held at Fort Hancock.

Wells said the meeting was in response to criticism from Bradley Campbell, acting in his capacity as the state’s Historic Preservation Officer.

Last month, Campbell said the public had not had sufficient opportunity to weigh in on the historic preservation aspects of the rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of the buildings proposed by SHP.

According to Wells, the NPS received only eight comments on the programmatic agreement that details how redevelopment of the buildings would meet federal guidelines.

Campbell, also head of the NJ Department of Environmental Protection, called on the ACHP to hold public hearings.

“We’ll be talking about preservation of the resources here, treatment of the buildings and the programmatic agreement that ensures the long-term preservation of the properties,” said Wells. “We are having conversations with the ACHP and trying to structure the meeting so it will be the most productive and allow the greatest dialogue. We will set a date with plenty of time to get the information to the public.”

The NPS held three public meetings and six open houses in support of its choice of the SHP redevelopment project.

The October meeting “is intended to be a more detailed and focused on the preservation treatment of the buildings” included in the lease, he said, adding “but the same standards apply to all the 263 buildings at Fort Hancock.”