CAPE MAY - By a 3-to-2 vote, Cape May City Council adopted a resolution vacating certain paper streets as part of a process of placing 10 acres of city property on the Recreation and Open Space Inventory (ROSI) list, a state inventory of open space that makes future use of the space for development nearly impossible.
Two controversies dogged this late-year rush to adopt the resolution while the current council is seated.
One was the proximity of the city properties to the large Sewell Tract acreage owned by developer East Cape May Associates (ECMA). The tract is the subject of the state’s longest-running civil litigation.
Some, including Mayor-elect Zack Mullock, see the move approved by the council as having less to do with ROSI list issues and more with creating roadblocks for possible settlement of the litigation that could involve partial development of the tract.
The second controversy was the vote by Deputy Mayor Patricia Hendricks, whose husband is a member and past president of Concerned Citizens for Sewell Tract, a nonprofit group committed to the tract’s preservation and an active party to the litigation.
Councilwoman Stacy Sheehan opposed Hendricks’ vote, as a conflict of interest. Without Hendricks’ vote, the ordinance would have failed adoption.
Public comment saw more individuals in favor of the ordinance. Those who favored the ordinance’s adoption did so largely with comments that saw the move as creating a roadblock for Sewell Tract development.
The ordinance was tabled at the council’s previous meeting because an attorney representing the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) contacted the city and said the ordinance might interfere with ongoing settlement talks between the DEP and ECMA.
The DEP’s preference that the city not act on the ordinance has not changed. What appeared to stop it from impeding the passage of the ordinance this time were comments from City Solicitor Frank Corrado, who indicated that conversations he had with the DEP attorney “left me with the impression” that it was not a “big deal” either way.
Corrado said that the DEP continued to “prefer” the city not act on the ordinance, but by then, the DEP’s position seemed to become background noise in the process.
Councilman-elect Chris Bezaire, speaking as a city resident, argued there was no pressing reason to act on the ordinance. Nothing in the ordinance said it could not wait for consideration by the new governing body set to take office in January.
Mayor-elect Zack Mullock said the council was failing in its fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers by not negotiating financial compensation before placing the properties on the ROSI list.
Mullock said that the only reason to push this ordinance is to “mess around with the settlement” of the Sewell Tract litigation.
With that, Mayor Clarence Lear called for the vote. Lear, Councilman Shaine Meier, and Hendricks voted to adopt the ordinance, and Mullock and Sheehan voted against it.
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