BARNEGAT, NJ – Earlier this month, the Barnegat Township Committee approved Resolution 2020-134, authorizing the advertisement of bids for the public sale of Block 250, Lot 23. The block and lot number represent township property located at 686 East Bay Avenue. More particularly, the building on the site just happens to be Barnegat’s historic firehouse.
At least one local resident has questions concerning the prospect of selling the historic building. Bill Neyenhouse has lived in Barnegat since 1982 and served on the township committee from 1988-1992. He was also the mayor during the early 90s and has strong opinions about how local government should run.
“I feel as though the committee snuck this in the consent agenda,” said Neyenhouse. “This certainly doesn’t reflect the mayor’s pledge of transparency.”
To make his point, Neyenhouse pointed out the notice that appears under the Consent Agenda heading, which says that items listed are considered to be routine. The language goes on to say that the committee would not engage in formal discussion of individual items. However, items from the consent agenda can be discussed and removed for separate consideration.
“The public had no opportunity to speak on this,” Neyenhouse maintained. “It was a stealth resolution, and the committee intentionally buried it. The sale of an important historic building is certainly not a routine item, and listing it as such is certainly unethical and may be illegal.”
As it turns out, Neyenhouse became so angry that he wrote a letter to the Office of the Attorney General. In it, he accuses the mayor and township committee of intentionally listing Resolution 2020-134 on the consent agenda to eliminate “any public input or discussion.”
“The public can comment on items on any part of the agenda,” countered Mayor John Novak. “They can also comment on items that are not on the agenda. We follow the advice of our township attorney on matters such as these.”
Novak, a land-use attorney, offered further explanation. “Municipalities can sell properties by ordinance,” he shared. “If, and when, we get an acceptable bid, we will introduce the ordinance and hold public hearings on it.”
According to Novak, the current resolution was only to offer the building for sale and solicit bids. The minimum bid was initially set at $125K with a deadline for submittals by Friday, March 27, 2020. None were received.
“This is a classic case of Mr. Neyenhouse looking for problems where there are none,” said Novak. “You would think as a former local and state government official, this would be common knowledge to him.”
Meanwhile, Neyenhouse feels the minimum bid price is too low. A realtor told him the land and property are easily valued at $313K. Neyenhouse also questions whether the township is in compliance with the law as far as advertising for bid solicitations a second week.
“I think the township should maintain ownership of the property.” Neyenhouse opined. “In light of the town leaders’ commitment to improve the activities in the downtown historic district, I think the building should be used as a cultural and arts center,” he shared.
The old firehouse was built in the late 1920s and served as the Barnegat Fire Company Firehouse until 1962. After construction of the new firehouse was completed, the township used it for different purposes. It has housed the recreation center, the food bank, and most recently, the Office of Emergency Management.
“As everyone knows, the township committee is onboard with the revitalization of the downtown area,” said Town Administrator Martin Lisella. “We are hopeful that a private company or individual will purchase the building and turn it into a viable business.”
Notably, the old firehouse sits in the middle of the historic district. The new owners will need to comply with guidelines when it comes to a remodel or construction of a new building on the premises.