Cape College Project Wins State Approval
|by W.F. KEOUGH Staff Writer, Press of Atlantic City
A state commission ruled Thursday that Cape May County and Atlantic Cape Community College could build a campus on public land, a decision that angered environmentalists, but delighted county and college officials who spent four years seeking approval for the project.
In exchange, Cape May County officials have pledged to spend $500,000 to preserve open space elsewhere in the county.
The State House Commission voted unanimously to grant a Green Acres diversion permit for the 29-acre site on Court House-South Dennis Road, where the county wants to build a 70,000-square-foot campus to a design by Garrison Architects. The campus will be located on a grassy parking lot next to the county's 4-H fairgrounds.
"This was a very satisfactory conclusion to a long process," ACCC President John May said. An ACCC spokeswoman said construction could begin in December.
Cape May County is the only county in New Jersey without a community college. After joining together in 1999, Cape May County freeholders and ACCC officials expected to bring a college to Cape May County within two years. But almost immediately after selecting the site, county officials were beset by delays and opposition.
Environmental issues caused many of the delays, and forced design changes, which drove the cost of the project from $12.6 million to $15.1 million.
Freeholder Director Daniel Beyel cited community support for seeing the project through. That, as well as political help by state Sen. James S. Cafiero, R-Cape May, and Assemblyman Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, helped make the project reality.
"We're extremely pleased," said Beyel, who attended the hearing.
Thursday's hearing attracted a standing-room-only crowd of roughly 90 people to the small committee room in the Statehouse.
First to speak was DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell, who supported the college project; DEP support is critical to the commission decisions.
Campbell said that a November 2000 consent decree between the county and DEP, clearly and repeatedly signaled to Cape May County officials that the DEP intended to approve the site.
In the decree, the state agreed to allow sewer lines extended to the site, and to include the project in a coastal building zone.
In return, the county agreed to change the building plans to prevent harm to the southern gray tree frog and eastern tiger salamander.
As part of this latest permit, the county has agreed that the $500,000 will come from its general fund; the county had proposed previously to use open-space funds
Campbell said that the consent decree has not stopped the DEP from scrutinizing the county's college proposal.
But Campbell, in an interview after Thursday's meeting, said that environmentalists' claims that the site was pristine land are unsupported.
"It was basically a site being used as an overflow parking lot," Campbell said. "Neither to the naked nor to the more experienced eye of our endangered-species experts did it represent an irreplaceable park asset."
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