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Longport neighbors step up in a big way to ensure Dorothy McGee memorial park becomes reality

  • Longport

Dorothy McGee, who died in November, donated two buildable lots for Longport Borough to build a passive park.

By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY

LONGPORT Wealthy beach-block neighbors have stepped up in a big way to ensure a top-of-the-line passive park is built in their neighborhood.

According to Longport Solicitor Michael Affanato, neighbors on 22nd Avenue where former school board secretary Dorothy McGee donated two buildable lots to the borough, wholeheartedly support erecting and maintaining the park in perpetuity. McGee died in November and included specific instructions for creating the park in her will. Her heirs support her wishes.

On Wednesday, Jan. 17, the Board of Commissioners pulled a resolution from the agenda accepting the lots.

But first, they heard from Affanato, who said the borough must include the exact wording for the deed restriction in the resolution accepting the lots, which have a current assessed valuation of $1.7 million each.

The language of the deed restriction is needed, so we know exactly what we are accepting and what the restrictions are, he said.

He said he has been unable to discuss the deed restriction with the attorney handling McGee's will, but that it will likely be on the agenda for the commissioners' next meeting in February.

Affanato also said he met with Administrator A. Scott Porter and attorney Jack Plackter who is representing a group of residents who live in the area and are willing to provide the financial resources to get the park built.

Borough engineer Ed Dennis Jr. provided the commissioners with a cost estimate totaling $150,000 to build the park according to McGee's wishes.

The homeowners agreed that is a figure they would likely completely fund in order to have some control over the design of the park and what goes in, Affanato said.

The residents want a top of the line park without the restrictions included in the municipal bidding process or tax concerns. He said the residents may even be interested in financing future maintenance at the park.

They indicated that is something they might be interested in doing, Affanato said. Once they decide on a funding mechanism&we could enter a memorandum of understanding. We're not there yet.

22nd Avenue, Longport

Although the resolution was pulled from the agenda, the commissioners confirmed that they are all in favor of accepting the lots and building the park. They also approved another resolution applying for a $100,000 competitive state grant to fund the park's completion.

Grant consultant James Rutala of Rutala Associates of Linwood will file an application with the NJ Local Recreation Improvement Grant program, which has $25 million up for grabs in 2024.

Affanato said the attorney for the estate pushed back on the residents' suggestion that donors be recognized for planting a tree or erecting an amenity, such as park benches.

They really want this to be the Dorothy McGee park, he said. I don't think that's a big issue for (the residents).

Mayor Nicholas Russo said costs could be reduced somewhat if the Public Works Department can do some of the work.

Commissioner Jim Leeds said that other residents of the borough may be interested in supporting the effort by donating a tree or installing a bench, like they do on beach crossovers.

Commissioner Dan Lawler said McGee's donation is a great gesture that he welcomes.

After some investigation, Lawler noted that the $150,000 cost for the park and the loss of current tax revenue on the land, which would become tax exempt, would amount to about $20 per residence.

During public comments, resident Bob English asked if there is any way to include on-site parking at the site.

That could run against the deed restriction, Affanato said.

Russo said he has no intention of changing McGee's dying wishes, and that installing a bicycle rack at the street end might be more appropriate.

There are 5 million reasons why I'm in favor of going ahead with this, Russo said.

Lawler said he did not think on-site parking would be needed as most people would walk to the park.

However, Leeds said he would not give up on discussing his idea of offering limited-time, on-street parking, which currently does not exist, a bike rack or memorial bench or trees.

Another resident said the donation is a great opportunity in a much-crowded state like New Jersey to have some open space.

Dorothy McGee house on the corner of Atlantic and 22nd Avenue in Longport and the two lots she bequeathed to the borough.

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