MARLBORO - The state has granted the township exclusive rights to buy the Marlboro Psychiatric Hospital property for the next six months.The decision, passed down by the State House Commission on Monday, is "a good first step" toward ensuring the township has control over the future of the 411-acre site off Route 520, Mayor Jonathan Hornik said.
"There's always a danger that the state could look to liquidate an asset without involving Marlboro Township," Hornik said.
"We're all going to work together to come up with a strategy to meet everybody's needs," Hornik said. He added that area legislators also pushed for the exclusivity deal.
"For Marlboro, it's to turn this into a positive, community-based asset to the town; and for the state, it's to maximize the proceeds they can receive because of obvious budget concerns," Hornik said.
State Treasury Department spokesman Tom Bell said the state is looking forward to "disposing of this property," and the agreement "sets up the parameters for coming to a conclusion within a specific time period." Should the state and the
township not be able to reach an agreement within the next six months, the state may hold a public auction and sell the property to the highest bidder, Bell said.
The township has been negotiating on and off for the purchase of the property since the state closed the hospital in 1998. Previous incarnations of plans for the site have included a Fortune 500 company headquarters, complete with an adjoining golf course and convention center.
But earlier proposals have been delayed by roadblocks, which include the Department of Environmental Protection's 2004 decision to reclassify much of the site as protected watershed area. The move drastically limited development, and cut the value of the property from roughly $30 million to between $6 million and $9 million, according to earlier estimates by township officials.
Hornik said the township is awaiting a new appraisal of the property from the state, but added that "any value presented to me from 2004 might as well have been from 1884, the markets have changed so much."
He added he believes the state, in coming up with a cost for the property, should take into account the Township Council's July vote to rezone the tract for redevelopment. The new redevelopment plan calls for a 200-acre expansion of
Monmouth County's Big Brook Park, and public projects such as a community center or indoor recreation facility.
The plan also permits uses including wellness, sports and swim centers, as well as child and adult day care facilities. Hornik has said he believes the site, because of the environmental restrictions, would not be able to support big-box retail or residential development.
Results of a new environmental study at the site are being compiled by Birdsall Engineering, Hornik said, adding that the study also could impact the purchase price. Preliminary environmental studies found asbestos and oil contamination on
Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande applauded the State House Commission's decision, for which she said she, Sen. Jennifer Beck and Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon, all R-Monmouth, have been advocating in a bipartisan effort with Hornik, a Democrat.
"After years of stops and starts, we finally seem to be moving in the right direction, to the credit of everyone involved," Casagrande said in a prepared statement. "After all Marlboro has been through, with the overdevelopment and the corruption associated with it, it is imperative that the township be given every opportunity to control its own destiny and develop this large property with the best interests of Marlboro in mind."
Alesha Williams Boyd: (732) 308-7756 or AWilliams@app.com