CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE - Cape May County's recent expansion of its open space and farmland preservation tax to include recreational projects has drawn six applications for its first round of funding.

The applications came from four towns and include a fishing pier, boat ramp, recreation center and three park projects.

The county has had the tax since 1989 - a levy of 1 cent for each $100 of assessed valuation that generates almost $5 million per year - but the money previously was used only to acquire open space and preserve agricultural lands.

The first applications for park and recreation projects were due April 15.

"I didn't know what to expect because the program is new. It reflects the diverse needs of our towns and our county," Cape May County Planning Director Leslie Gimeno said.

The next step is for the county's Open Space Review Board to go over the applications. The board can decline, approve or defer on each application. If it defers, funding for the project is still possible, but usually other projects are deemed more worthy or the particular project may face delays anyway due to permitting or other issues. The board merely makes recommendations.

Gimeno said the Board of Chosen Freeholders makes the funding decisions.

The applications include two from Lower Township, one to construct an 800-foot concrete promenade and fishing pier into the Delaware Bay and another to make a recreation center accessible to the disabled. The township seeks $1.1 million for the promenade and $471,000 for the improvements to the Paul R. Will Recreation Complex in the Villas section.

An application from Stone Harbor seeks as much as $584,898 to help construct a memorial park to remember victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The Point of Peace Memorial Park was proposed by a local committee that included members who were at the World Trade Center in New York City that day.

Two applications were submitted by Upper Township. One requests $585,000 to complete an ongoing project called Amanda's Field that began in 2002. The work is 80 percent complete, but the money would finish it, including $345,000 for sports lighting on soccer and baseball fields at the complex in the Petersburg section. There is already an in-line skating park, indoor batting cage, concession stand, restroom and several athletic fields at the site.

Upper Township also seeks $300,000 to improve a municipal boat ramp at the end of Bayview Avenue in Strathmere, one of only two areas to provide access to Strathmere Bay. The money would be used to reconstruct the boat ramp while adding a pier and floating docks.

Middle Township has applied for $982,531 to use toward the $4.3 million Ockie Wisting Recreation Complex at the former Fort Apache Campground site off Fulling Mill Road. The township bought the 82-acre site in 2002 for $1 million, using state grants, but has not put in recreational amenities yet. Plans call for a playground, picnic areas, fishing pier, boardwalk, wildlife observation deck, a stage for concerts, a Frisbee golf course, five soccer fields, fitness stations, two miles of trails, rest rooms and a concession stand.

The open-space and farmland fund was also expanded to include historic preservation projects, but those applications are not due until Dec. 16. This actually will follow a second round for recreational projects, with those applications due on Aug. 15. The board will make decisions on the first six applications at its June meeting.

A 1987 state law allows the county to expand the fund for other uses, but the freeholders only recently decided to do this. The decision came as state funding for recreational and historic preservation has dried up.

The April 15 deadline also drew some traditional applications for funds to purchase open space. North Wildwood applied for $3 million to purchase athletic fields owned by Notre Dame De La Mer Parish. The Eighth Street Field project totals 2.3 acres.

The owner of a 0.75-acre vacant property in Middle Township at 425 Route 9 has offered the land to the open space program. The land is assessed at $152,000 and the asking price is $299,900, but the owner will accept fair-market value from appraisals. The owner has approval to construct a 4,000-square-foot medical building there.

Avalon is requesting $900,000 to purchase four vacant beachfront parcels. The borough has already put some of its own funding into this.

A property owner has offered a wetlands tract off Fourth Avenue in West Cape May to the program. It is assessed at $190,200 and the asking price is just $70,000. The site hosts the state-endangered southern gray tree frog.

Woodbine applied for $1.8 million to sell a borough-owned 25-acre tract and would use the money for recreation programs. The tract is bounded by Webster, Sumner, Heilprin, and Adams avenues.

"The borough intends to use the money to create a dedicated recreation fund that will help cover the costs of maintenance, improvements and operations of this proposed recreational site and others in the community," states the application.

The Moretti-Monichetti Partnership, LLC offered 38 acres off Goshen Road as open space. The site is approved for a 45-unit townhouse development. The asking price is $2,450,000 but they will accept the fair-market appraised value.

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