Golf plan OK’d amid farmhouse concerns

Redevelopment plan allows course to be built around historic home


Staff Writer

OLD BRIDGE – The Township Council adopted a redevelopment plan Monday for the long-awaited municipal golf course, despite unresolved issues surrounding the historic Lambertson homestead.

Those issues center around a promise that some township officials say was made when the Redevelopment Agency’s golf committee was first formed: that the home, built in parts in the 1820s and 1880s, would remain intact while the golf course is developed around it. The golf course will be built on the former Lambertson and Rose farms, both now owned by the township and located at Lambertson and Farrington roads.

The Planning Board recommended the golf course redevelopment plan to the council, noting that its chief concern was the preservation of the farmhouse.

Anne Miller, a Planning Board member who is also the head of the Old Bridge Historic Preservation Commission, said she was told the house could be kept as is and used as some sort of accessory building for the golf course, which will be owned by the township but developed and operated by a private firm.

But the house is reportedly in need of repairs, and some are questioning how it would be used, since its rooms are somewhat small. The township’s chosen golf course development firm has said that it would not fund the restoration of the house, noting that a contractor found it “difficult to salvage or restore.”

“As far as the farmhouse is concerned, clearly if the township determines that it is salvageable it will remain,” Township Attorney Jerome Convery said Monday.

The golf course, he said, was designed around the Lambertson homestead.

Ward 6 Councilwoman Lucille Panos wanted to know about any plans the township might have for the Lambertson homestead.

“When it was discussed, the idea from the administration was to preserve it,” Convery said. “The golf course wraps around it.”

Also, he noted, ideas have been suggested for a gift shop or other accessory use. Ultimately, the decision on whether the farmhouse can be restored lies with the township, Convery said. If it is saved, the property and the buildings on it would be leased out to the golf course operator. Such a decision, as well as what exactly the buildings would be used for, would be made later in talks with the developer, he said.

“We shouldn’t wait for a decision,” Ward 5 Councilman Richard Greene said. “The longer that building is vacant, the more difficult it is going to be to save it.”

At present, Greene said, the farmhouse is subject to vandalism, and the township can help that situation by making a decision on what to do with it now.

Some at the meeting said they found it suspect that the firm developing the golf course had so much to do with the actual drafting of the redevelopment plan. But Councilman Edward Testino, who sits on the golf committee, pointed out that the committee has been working with the developer for over a year and a half. And, he said, the developer and others chosen to work on the course were selected because they are experts in this type of amenity.

“This guy didn’t just show up on the scene and decide to throw a plan at us,” Testino said.

He said the agreement can be changed later in the planning stages, and that it would not be unusual for the entire redevelopment plan to be modified with council approval in the future.

“These things take crafting, they take molding, they take shaping,” Testino said.

And, he noted, since the golf course plan is based on the same public-private partnership model used for the YMCA, a lease will be needed.

“If we can negotiate the lease, we’ll have a golf course. If we can’t, we won’t,” he said.

Ward 4 Councilman G. Kevin Calogera said a decision must be made regarding the Lambertson property because of the public-private partnership. If tax dollars must be used to preserve the home, that should be factored in as soon as possible, he said.

“We can’t be left out in the dark,” he said.

If tax money is required, though, Testino said, that’s a small price to pay; the developer will be putting up millions for the golf course.

Council President Patrick Gillespie told council members that what was being voted on was the plan for the property that would become part of the golf course.

“The Redevelopment Law functions like a cookbook,” he said, “and you go step by step. … If we were making a pizza, right now we’d be kneading and rolling the dough. We haven’t gotten to the sauce, the cheese or the pepperoni. So before anybody shanks a ball off a tee, takes a mulligan or hooks one into the woods, we still have a number of decisions that we’re going to have to make.”

Monday’s vote, he said, would be just to use the land as a golf course.

“I am not opposing using this land as a golf course,” Panos said. “What I do want is to preserve that farm, and that’s the only commitment that I would hope this council guarantees.”

She said she wanted to make sure the historic property was not used as a garage, adding that she wants the history of Old Bridge to remain intact.

In the end, the redevelopment plan was adopted in an 8-0 vote, with Greene abstaining.

The Lambertson farmhouse has been vacant since 2002. It originally belonged to the Lambertson family, which has roots in the area now called Old Bridge dating back to the Revolutionary War. It is listed among the township’s Historic Cultural and Architectural Resources.

The redevelopment plan declares 209 acres formerly used as the Lambertson and Rose farms as being in need of redevelopment, and states that the land will be developed as a municipal golf course.

The course will be developed by Kelly Blake Moran Golf Course Architects and operated by Old Bridge GC Partners LLC and Far Hills Capital Partners LLC.

The 18-hole course will have a clubhouse with locker rooms and restrooms, an indoor and open-air dining pavilion with a bar, a golf shop, driving range and cart barn, among other amenities. Another permitted use on the golf course is housing for a limited number of employees of the operation. The redevelopment plan also states that a new access road should be built from Route 516 to the course.