NORTH WILDWOOD - The city wants to buy the popular Eighth Street field for $3 million to preserve the land, surrounded by homes, as open space.
On Tuesday, City Council approved the purchase and an accompanying bond ordinance, which would allow the city to spend $3 million to buy the grassy field at 701 Central Ave. from the Notre Dame de la Mer Parish, part of the Diocese of Camden.
Mayor Bill Henfey has met with the Cape May County Open Space Board, and the city has applied for open space funding so that the county would ultimately pay for the land.
Currently, the church allows the city's Recreation Department and others to use the field for soccer, baseball and other sports. In exchange, the city cuts the grass and paints the lines for the different sporting activities, Henfey said.
"We want to preserve it," City Council President Patrick Rosenello said.
Rosenello said either the city buys the field and preserves it as open space or the church could possibly sell it to a developer, turning the 2.29 acres of green space into a residential development.
Henfey said the land could be divided into 20 buildable lots each valued at $300,000, making the land worth as much as $6 million.
Leslie Gimeno, director of the county's Planning Department, said the Open Space Board would make a decision about whether to fund the purchase by Aug. 15.
The city's application is one of six land acquisitions being considered by the board. They range in price from $70,000 for a West Cape May property to $3 million for the recreation field in North Wildwood.
The county has a budget of $8 million for the open space and recreation-use purchases currently under consideration.
During the public hearing on the purchase, resident Eugene Sanguinetti said he believed there was a deed restriction on the land and that it could not be developed.
"I don't know why the city's involved here," he said.
Henfey and Rosenello said the city was not aware of any restrictions, but a complete title search would be done before the purchase actually takes place.
"The Eighth Street field has been a quest of mine," Henfey said. "It's extremely important it remain open space."
Gimeno said that if the Open Space Board approves the purchase, the land will be appraised and a price determined before being considered by the Board of Freeholders.
According to the county's land records, the North Wildwood Co., based in Wildwood, sold the land to St. Ann's Church on Sept. 24, 1946, for $5,000.
Prior to that, the land changed hands when it was sold in July 1946 from Ottens Land Inc. to the North Wildwood Co. for the sum of $1.
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