Barnegat Ocean Acres may survive snake bite

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BARNEGAT OCEAN ACRES MAY SURVIVE SNAKE BITE

Date: 040325
From: http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/

By Eric Tucker, Staff Writer, (609) 978-2012
Press of Atlantic City, March 25, 2004

Barnegat Township - The presence of snakes and other endangered
species at the Barnegat Ocean Acres development site has bedeviled
construction plans, prompted costly habitat studies and delayed the
completion of a large residential community.

Now, though, the township, developer Walters Homes and the Pinelands
Commission are working toward an agreement that officials say could
ultimately lead to the resolution of the conflict and provide a
working blueprint for new construction.

A proposal under consideration calls for the approximately 2,020 lots
in the Barnegat section of the complex to be divided into separate
areas for development and conservation. The area that would be rezoned
and protected from development has been identified through studies as
a snake habitat.

About 750 building lots would be set aside for conservation.

More than 100 lots would at least temporarily be conserved pending
completion of additional studies, said Joseph Del Duca, a lawyer for
Walters. It was unclear Wednesday whether the 100 lots were part of
the 750 or a separate group,

Del Duca cautioned that a final agreement was not necessarily
imminent.

"It just wouldn't be fair to say that we're at the finish line," he
said. "There are a couple of open issues that haven't been resolved."

The issue that began the whole debate is a group of northern pine
snakes that were found in the development during the course of studies
conducted by EcolSciences, a Morris County ecological firm.

The discovery of the snakes, who were named by scientists after the
streets on which they were found, halted construction of the
development.

One snake is known to remain in a centrally located area of the
development. The location of the snake, which is hibernating and whose
movements are being tracked through an internal radio transmitter, has
so far blocked the development of more than 100 lots.

Del Duca said the developer believes that the snake's movements are
impeded by dirt mounds created during the construction process. It is
seeking to prove through additional studies that the snake is not in
its natural habitat and would leave on its own if not for the mounds
of dirt.

If the hypothesis proves true, those 100 lots would no longer need to
be conserved and could be opened to development.

The Pinelands Commission forbids development on areas inhabited by
state or federally protected species, which includes pine snakes.
Though the snake in question is being tracked, forcefully relocating
it could lead to disorientation and confusion, said Dan Brill, of
EcolSciences.

Del Duca said there are hundreds of people who already own lots in
Ocean Acres, with many having purchased land as far back as the 1970s.
A goal of the proposal is to help those lots that would be moved to
the conservation zone retain at least some value.

"At the end of the day, they would like everyone who owns a lot in
the conservation area to see some kind of compensation," said Township
Administrator W. Bryan Dempsey.

As a form of compensation, Dempsey said the proposed agreement
dictates that those who seek to build on an undersized lot, defined as
under 10,000 square feet, would need to purchase two lots in the
conservation zone.

Pinelands Commission spokesman Francis Rapa said there were about 840
undersized units across the development.

Rapa said another option for a company or individual owner with
undersized lots would be to buy a quarter credit under the Pinelands
Development Credit Purchase Program. The program entitles property
owners in the commission's preservation district - and two other
similar districts - to be allocated credits that can then be sold on
the open market and purchased by developers, he said.

The proposed zoning changes for the Ocean Acres land would require an
amendment to the township's zoning ordinance. Dempsey said Wednesday
that he expected the ordinance to be drafted at a meeting in the near
future.

* * *

To email Eric Tucker at The Press: ETucker@pressofac.com