Twp. deeds 113-acre tract to school board

Democrat committeman says both sides agree on the plan


Staff Writer

MILLSTONE — The district now has ownership of the 113-acre property intended for the new middle school.

According to Mayor Elias Abilheira, the township needed to deed the property to the Board of Education by the end of the month so the board could move ahead with its plans to build the new middle school, which voters approved last year.

The Jan. 19 resolution followed a two-hour executive session between school and township officials, according to Abilheira.

Plans to subdivide the property into three sections will continue, Abilheira said, though some residents spoke out against the move at school board and Planning Board meetings.

Earlier this month, the township began an application process before the Planning Board to subdivide the 113-acre property, which was the former Waters nursery.

The plan includes subdividing 56.2 acres for the new middle school and its athletic fields and parking lot. Abilheira said there would be room on that tract for a future high school if and when it becomes necessary.

Plans were also to subdivide another 16.9-acre parcel for additional athletic fields and recreation. Abilheira said the original idea was to have the township construct those fields because the municipality can qualify for state and county funds that the board cannot, such as Infrastructure Trust and Green Acres programs.

The piece would be subject to an interlocal agreement with the school board and the township for use of the fields.

However, Abilheira indicated that at this time, the school will retain ownership of that parcel.

The third section is a 40.5-acre parcel that contains wetlands, stream corridors and Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L) power company easements and power lines. Only about 12 acres of this land can be used in some way, according to Township Engineer Christopher Rosati.

Abilheira said one of the conditions of deeding the property to the school is for the district to deed back that 40-acre parcel after the subdivision is complete.

The usable land, located near Wagner Farm Park, is isolated from the middle school tract by the wetlands area.

Abilheira said the 12 acres will be deed-restricted for parking or recreational use only, which means that no municipal structures can be built there.

“It may be used for overflow parking for Wagner Farm Park,” Abilheira said.

Abilheira also said that if there was a large event, crossing guards could be used to make sure people are safe when crossing the street.

He added that the township is open to giving back this land to the school board in the future.

“Five, 10, 15 years from now if the school does need it, it can be deeded back,” he said.

Critics of the plan to subdivide the property have said that the township is going back on its word by retaining ownership of some of the property intended for the school.

It has also been suggested that some township officials have a hidden agenda to put a centralized recreation complex on part of the site.

However, officials on both sides of the aisle agree that the property is too small for this type of facility.

Democrat Committeeman Chet Halka said he does not buy into this alleged scheme.

“Everybody was making a big deal and made it sound like [the Republicans] were trying to keep a bit for the school and keep the rest for the township,” he said. “We all agreed on everything.”

Halka called the plan to use part of the 40-acre parcel as overflow parking “a good idea.”

As for the idea of centralized recreation, “We don’t have enough room there to do that,” according to Halka.

Abilheira agreed, saying the township would need closer to 100 acres for centralized recreation.