ATTORNEY GENERAL, DEP ANNOUNCE SETTLEMENT TO PRESERVE
ENVIRONMENTALLY-VITAL LAND NEAR OCEAN IN CAPE MAY
TRENTON - Attorney General Anne Milgram and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Acting Commissioner Mark N. Mauriello announced today that the State has entered into a settlement agreement that will preserve most of an environmentally important, 96-acre parcel of land near the ocean in Cape May while allowing for limited development on a portion of the tract.
The settlement resolves 17 years of litigation involving the State and East Cape May Associates, a Florida-based partnership that owns the land and began seeking to build single-family housing units on it in the early 1990s. East Cape May Associates sued the State in 1992 after DEP declined to issue permits needed to enable development to move forward.
Under terms of the settlement, approximately 18 acres is set aside for development of 71 market rate homes, along with 14 affordable housing units. The remaining 78 acres will be purchased jointly by DEP and the municipality of Cape May and preserved as open space. Both DEP and Cape May are contributing to the $7 million purchase price. Along with DEP, Cape May is party to the East Cape May Associates settlement.
“This is an important settlement for our environment, and for the people of New Jersey. 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,” said Attorney General Milgram.
“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,” said Acting Commissioner Mauriello.
Located east of Pittsburgh Avenue in Cape May, in an area known locally as “Sewell’s Point,” the 96-acre parcel sits between the Atlantic Ocean and Cape May Harbor. The property at issue is a well-known stopover for migratory birds - including some threatened and endangered species - that fly from the Arctic and Maine to South America. The parcel is also the last remaining undeveloped, privately-owned property of its size in New Jersey that is within walking distance of the ocean.
East Cape May Associates originally announced a plan to build 366 single-family homes on the parcel, and gained municipal subdivision approval for such a project.
DEP subsequently rejected permit applications required for the project, and the developer filed suit claiming the State’s permit denials were tantamount to improper “taking” of its property.
Litigation throughout the years at both the trial and appellate court levels failed to resolve all issues. Ultimately, a settlement was reached through mediation, which was presided over by the late New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Daniel O’Hern. The American Littoral Society participated in the mediation process.
Under terms of the settlement, DEP has committed to issuing permits consistent with agreed-upon parameters for the 18 acres set aside for development, and Cape May has committed to rezoning the designated development “footprint” within the larger 96-acre tract.
The settlement also provides that DEP and Cape May can jointly pursue passive recreation projects on the land, subject to prior consultation with East Cape May Associates and the American Littoral Society. Such projects would also be subject to any permits that may be required from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The $7 million purchase price for the land to be preserved as open space is expected to be funded through a $2.2 million grant to Cape May from the Garden State Preservation Trust local program, and a $2.2 million city match. In addition, the state Green Acres program is expected to fund $2.6 million of the purchase.
The settlement announced today is subject to applicable regulations, including the submission of complete permit applications by the developer, and a public review and comment period. It is also subject to review and approval by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Deputy Attorney General Rachel Horowitz and Deputy Attorney General Lewin Weyl, assigned to the Division of Law’s Environmental Permitting and Counseling Section, handled the East Cape May Associates matter on behalf of the State.