Litigation ends after development of N.J. ocean-side protected

Nick Rees Jul. 1, 2009, 5:00pm

Anne Milgram (D)

TRENTON, N.J. (Legal Newsline) - Following seventeen years of litigation, the state of New Jersey has entered into a settlement agreement to preserve most of an environmentally important, 96-acre parcel of land in Cape May while allowing a portion of the tract to have limited development.

"This is an important settlement for our environment, and for the people of New Jersey," Attorney General Anne Milgram said. "Through this agreement, we are preserving a vital shore resource while also resolving long-standing litigation -- litigation that, for many years, held the future of this environmentally significant land parcel in doubt."

The parcel, known locally as Sewll's Point, sits between Cape May Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean. It is known as a stopover for migratory birds, including some threatened- and endangered species. The parcel is also the last privately-owned, undeveloped property of its size in New Jersey within walking distance of the ocean.

The Florida-based East Cape May Associates partnership owns the land and began to seek permits to develop 366 single-family housing units on it in the early 1990s. Municipal subdivision approval was granted for the project. After the Department of Environmental Protection declined to issue the needed permits to allow development to move forward, East Cape May Associates sued the state in 1992.

Eighteen acres of the land will be set aside for developing 71 market rate homes and 14 affordable housing units under terms of the settlement. The DEP and the municipality will purchase the remaining 78 acres of land, which will be preserved as open space. The DEP and Cape May will contribute to the purchase price of $7 million and will be party tot he East Cape May Associates settlement.

Funding is also expected from a $2.2 million grant from the Garden State Preservation Trust local program and a match of that amount from the city of Cape May. An additional $2.6 million in funding is expected from the state Green Acres program.

"Having been involved in this case for many years, I'm delighted that we are finally closing the book on litigation and opening a wonderland of undeveloped coastal property that serves as a refuge for birds and many other species of wildlife," DEP Acting Commissioner Mark Mauriello said.

The DEP has committed to issuing permits with agreed-upon parameters for the 18-acres under terms of the settlement, with Cape May also agreeing to rezone the designated development with the larger 96-acre tract.

The DEP and Cape May are allowed to jointly pursue passive recreation projects on the land under the settlement, though any activities are subject to prior consultation with East Cape May Associates and the American Littoral Society and would be subject to any permits required from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The settlement is also applicable to regulations, including a public review and comment period following complete permit applications by the developer. It is also subject to review and approval by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

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