Land for fields tangled in red tape

| 15 Feb 2012 | 09:48

    Deed not signed without permits; Permits not granted without deed, By Fran Hardy Sparta — In what is looking more and more like a classic Catch 22 situation, a portion of land from Station Park, which was conveyed to the school district in Resolution 5-2 by a unanimous vote of the Township Council on Feb. 9, 2010, is still not in the hands of the school district. The subject was raised at last week’s council meeting when Mayor Jerry Murphy said he had received an email from Shauna Stanley of the Sparta Soccer Club urging the council to support the school district’s plan to build a multi-sport turf field on land behind the high school adjacent to Station Park with unspent funds from the high school renovation project. He said Stanley mentioned the land had been given to the school district by the town last year specifically for this purpose. Murphy said he did not recall this agreement between the town and the schools, but was reminded by the township attorney that the council approved the resolution last year and explained the deed is being held in escrow until the board of education obtains all necessary permits from government agencies, such as the Department of Environmental Protection and others. He said once these permits are granted, the BOE can record the deed. Schools Superintendent Dr. Thomas Morton said information he has received from the district’s construction attorneys is that the district cannot apply for permits to blast rock and remove trees from land for which they do not have the official deed. Since town officials say they cannot grant the deed without the permits, it appears there is either a sort of stand-off going on, or perhaps a lack of communication between the two parties. Township Resolution 5-2 states that, “The conveyance of real property... to the Township of Sparta Board of Education is hereby approved subject to the following conditions, which shall be reflected in the Deed of Conveyance.” These conditions stated are that the property will be used for educational purposes, the land will revert to the township if the proposed field and track facilities are not built within ten years from the date of the resolution, the BOE will relocate a portion of the bike path so that it remains continuous around the property, and there shall be no motor vehicle traffic access from Station Park to the high school property. The resolution further states, “The appropriate individual(s) shall execute the Deed on behalf of the Board of Education acknowledging its agreement to comply with the conditions... The Mayor and Township Clerk are authorized to sign a deed and such other documents as may be reasonably required to effectuate the property transfer... This resolution shall take effect immediately.” Nothing in this wording implies the deed to the property cannot be given to the board until government permits are granted. However, in the Planning Board’s approval of the proposed property transfer, there is a paragraph which states, “Pursuant to Section N.J.S.A. 40:55D-47, these deeds are approved by minor subdivision memorializing Resolution adopted by the Board dated Dec. 2, 2009 and memorialized on Dec. 16, 2009. The time period for recording these deeds is hereby extended beyond the 190 days and the deeds may be recorded at any time after this Resolution, upon completion of all approvals, and satisfaction of the requirements of the Sparta Township Council.” The words, “upon completion of all approvals” could imply the governmental permits, but it is a document that was signed by both township and district officials in June of 2010, that seems to spell this out more clearly. The document is a Real Property Conveyance Agreement. It states, in part, “The Deed once executed by all parties shall be held in escrow by the Township Attorney until such time as the Township Attorney, the Planning Board Attorney, and Planning Board Engineer are satisfied that all conditions, including all necessary approvals have been secured by the Board of Education... The Township of Sparta shall cooperate with the Board of Education in the Board of Education’s filing for the necessary approvals.” To date, no applications for governmental approvals have been submitted by either the township or the school district. Since the BOE recently voted to approve an engineering firm’s proposal to move ahead with design and permitting work for the fields project, district officials are now trying to unravel some of the red tape and get to the bottom of who is supposed to be doing what in order move the project along. Morton said he is currently working to set up a meeting between all parties to determine the next steps.