Petition to stop Camp Sussex purchase certified

Town certifies petition to stop acquisition of camp

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By Nathan Mayberg
A petition to stop the purchase of Camp Sussex, which gathered more than 800 signatures by Vernon registered voters, has been certified and could be headed to a public vote.

Vernon Township Municipal Clerk Lauren Kirkman certified the petition on Friday, which seeks to block the use of Open Space funds and Farmland Preservation purchases for the acquisition of the 88-acre camp as proposed by the township's Environmental Commission.

Town resident and former mayor Sally Rinker, who helped organize the petition drive, said 803 signatures were collected. The referendum required at least 650 signatures for a public vote.

Rinker said the petition certification counted as the introduction of an ordinance and now requires action by the Township Council. If no action is taken, the issue will go to a referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Empire Tax Fund bought the property from the town by paying the tax liens owed, which totaled more than $400,000 and foreclosed on the former camp owners earlier this year.

Approximately $2 million in fire code violations are owed.

The camp, which sits on Lake Glenwood and has about two dozen cabins and other buildings, closed in 2005 and lost its tax exempt status.

The camp site has been labeled as blight by some but there is disagreement as to whose responsibility it is to clean it up.

Vernon Township Mayor Victor Marotta had received approval from the Township Council to begin negotiations on purchasing the property from the company. Marotta had said he expects the acquisition to cost the township about $500,000. Rinker said it could cost the town more than $1 million to do the work. Among other problems, there could be oil tanks buried underneath the ground.

Rinker called the move by Marotta to negotiate purchasing the site as "overzealous."

Marotta did not return messages seeking comment.

Vernon Township Council President Brian Lynch said negotiations between Marotta and Empire Tax Fund were ongoing though he hasn't heard anything lately.

"The mayor has not given us any briefings," he said. "We haven't decided."

Lynch said he is interested in acquiring the property but said, "I want everything to line up perfectly."

Lynch said he would like to use the property as an outlet for young people who aren't athletes and are looking for an outlet. He envisions it as a potential center for the arts and drama, as a way to steer young people away from drugs.

"Not everybody's an athlete," he said. "I don't think there's anybody who is under the illusion that purchasing the Camp Sussex property would get rid of people using drugs."

Rinker has argued that it is the responsibility of the property's owners to clean up the site.

"This is what is expected of anybody who owns property in the town," she said. "If I put garbage on my front yard and the zoning officer comes by who is responsible? I am. Not my neighbor."

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