FORT HANCOCK – More leasing of buildings at Fort Hancock is underway, and we’re making progress, National Park Service superintendent for Gateway National Recreation Area Jen Nersessian told the Fort Hancock 21st Century Advisory Committee at the meeting Wednesday.
But communication with the leasees is a major problem that must be addressed, current and at least one possible leasee added.
During the three hour long meeting of the Advisory Committee, the 37th such meeting since the committee was formed, Gateway’s Karen Edelman gave updates on the buildings currently leased, including buildings 23 and 56, both leased by Monmouth County’s Vocational School for additional space for the NJROTC program at MAST, the Marine Academy of Science and Technology, and both under renovations and reconstruction now. Edelman also cited activity at McFly’s on the Hook, the café in Building 53, and the duplex former Officers’ homes on Officers Row facing the Shrewsbury River.
Development is underway for Building 104, leased to Thomas Jones. But Jones, present on the virtual meeting, said that while he’s proud to be investing in the rescue of historic buildings, it has been difficult working with “competing agendas and priorities.” As an example, he cited the costs of renovations has been at least triple what was anticipated for the replacement of windows alone. Conceding it is complicated, he told the Park Service personnel that “we need new solutions.” Jones said he realizes he will never recoup everything he has put into reconstruction; it is due in part to the arcane process the park service uses, he pointed out.
“We’re partners,” he said, noting that while private individuals and companies are putting their money into the reconstructions, the buildings nonetheless will forever belong to the Park Service. Jones said, “it is difficult to figure out the rules and then obey them.” He cited his own personal additional costs recently incurred when the water lines were shut down for three months and he had to stay in a hotel rather than the ‘cottage’ he is leasing and renovating at Fort Hancock. He told the committee he “would leave if I could, but I love it.”
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“Communication is difficult,” Jones continued, and interpreting the materials and other aspects leads to adversarial relationships. “It’s an imperfect situation. There has to be a solution.”
Park officials and the committee said the possibility of a single ombudsman to serve as a liaison between the leader and the park service might be the answer, and Committee co-chairs Glenn Glaser and Shawn Welch both agreed to further executive discussions with committee members to ensure that is a viable solution. Nersessian also indicated it is an option the park service will explore.
Ray Stillman, who has offered to lease most of the historic Officers’ Row houses for rehabilitation and conversion to apartments, pointed out he is “completely open to all types” of residential use of the reconstructed buildings, including veterans housing, and both long and short term rentals. He is urging further discussions to enable both the Park Service and his company to achieve their goals. He pointed out the serious problem of the ongoing deteriorating conditions of all the buildings and urged immediate action and funds be used to stabilize them now even while deterioration continues. He also urged some “high quality dialogue” and “a better process in the future.” He urged quicker action for stabilization and continued work toward the common interest of “patriotism, history and culture.”
Nersessian told a disappointed Susan Sandless Gardner that the building at the entrance to Sandy Hook, once part of a historic amusement park and swimming beaches on both the river and ocean, is not one being considered for reconstruction under present NPS plans. While the building has local, county and state historic interest, she said, it is not as high as the Fort Hancock structures on the national historic list. She pointed out the building, Building 600, is not in the RFP, request for proposals from the parks service and also pointed out that currently there is no safe access to the building, and no financial investment for access. She praised Gardner’s passion for restoration, but given so many challenges, the park service have to make priorities to other buildings in the landmark area. The history of the Sandlass Beach heyday is displayed in the Highlands Auditorium, a room at the Twin Lights state Museum in nearby Highlands that features the role of local figures in the history of the borough.
In response to Collette Buchanan, president of the Monmouth County Audubon Society, Nersessian explained the Park Service had no discretion in how to use funds it received for repairs to the infrastructure, and could not allocate those specific funds that went for the sea wall and sewage under the Great American Outdoors Act to rebuilding forests or any other project. Buchanan complained about the number of deer on Sandy Hook, and said they are destroying the habitat because of the multitude and the inability because of them to restore trees wiped out in earlier storms.
The Committee is accepting applications for new members to the committee and persons who wish to nominate themselves must do so before Oct. 25.