NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – Local resident and small business owner Gary Kapner is organizing a local effort to clean up an abandoned greenhouse.

The site, 1½ acres located off Division Avenue along the NJ Transit right of way, south of the Town Deli, has been abandoned for well over 20 years and Kapner said the owner owes close to half a million dollars in back taxes to the borough.

Kapner lives within walking distance of the greenhouse and describes it as a dangerous area and an eyesore for people who live around it.

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The property includes two greenhouses and other buildings and structures that are decomposed and polluted. Kapner said there is graffiti on the walls of the structures and trash everywhere because of the teenagers who hang out back there.

Last year, Kapner said, there was a fire on the site and because of the thickness of the greenery around it and its location in a wooded area, it was hard for firefighters to get to the fire. Overall, he said, it’s not a safe environment for anyone.

His first step in raising awareness of the hazardous greenhouse is the Facebook page (Abandoned New Providence) he set up. He wants to let the community know what’s going on and said if he can get enough people behind the project, maybe something will actually be done about it.

He said he knows there are legal issues to go along with this piece of property and the surrounding area but he’s taking one step at a time. Right now, he’s at a standstill because he wants to get a group of people together, including the residents of New Providence and Summit, to have a discussion about what can be done with the abandoned greenhouse.

“The owner of the greenhouse is long gone so it has just been sitting there for years, disintegrating,” Kapner said. “I would like the borough to get over there and take control of the property so that it can be fixed and cleaned up. The only problem with that is the liability it may cost if someone was to take control of the area.”

The ideal situation for the town and the residents would be to tear down all the structures and greenhouses on the property and get rid of all the pollution it may have caused. No one knows the extent of the damages yet, which will have to wait for an assessment by engineers and lawyers, Kapner said.

Since it’s in the middle of a residential area, with backyards within close proximity, Kapner said the minimum amount that should be done after everything is cleaned up and torn down, is to let nature take over and bring it back to normal green space.

“To take that a step further, it would be even more useful for the town to be able to put a park, baseball field, or soccer field on the land once it’s cleaned up,” he said. “It will benefit everyone in town, especially homeowners surrounding it.”

Kapner said one of the biggest setbacks for this project is the funding for it. The town currently cannot afford this property because once it’s under the town’s ownership; the town will have to completely clean it up.

Assessment fees alone can add up to pretty large amounts of money, Kapner said, and if the state were to fund the project, it would only pay about 70 to 80 percent of the cost, still leaving the town with part of the bill.

“This project has been on the state funding list for quite a while and hasn’t moved up much since they were put on the list,” he said.

Kapner said he loves undertaking community-oriented projects, and this would be a good one for borough residents to get behind.

“People have to start reaching out to the county or the state and question why there is funding for other projects but no money for this one,” he explained.

Kapner said he’s hoping in the next month or so, he will be able to get a group together and to take action on the greenhouse situation. A lot of work needs to get done before they can start really tackling the problem, but once he’s able to bring it to the forefront, he’s hopeful that  people will recognize that something really does need to be done with such a dangerous, debris-filled area. He said once they have the space, there are a variety of solutions to the problem.