200 Plus

A ‘New City’ in the Pinelands?

By THOMAS P. FARNER | Jul 17, 2019

Surf City, NJ — Today as you visit Ocean County’s newly restored Cedar Bridge Tavern, off Route 72  in Barnegat, you should take a moment while enjoying the silence to reflect on the fact that if things had gone differently you would be standing at the end of a projected airport runway in the sprawl of “New City,” with a population of over a quarter million residents. Most people became aware of the project when the Trenton Times ran a story on Jan. 24, 1960.

“A Jetport – the biggest in the world – might come to Trenton’s back yard. … The jet-age global terminal proposed for the Lebanon Forest area of Burlington County (plus part of Ocean County) would be the largest of its kind in the world. … The Burlington-Ocean tract includes 20,000 acres for the airport itself, and a 75,000-acre buffer zone. In the entire tract there would be very little displacement. And there’s no high-priced ground.”

When the government report was published, it explained there would also be a “New City” nearby, carefully planned by officials.

“The city center or core is the heart of the new city, pulsating with activity day and night. It is designed to be the shopping, office and financial, cultural, entertainment and convention center. … In the retail and office areas, where pedestrian traffic is heaviest, moving ramps and sidewalks are proposed. For longer distances, although no point in the center is more than ¾ of a mile from any other, battery-operated scooters may be rented.”

The new city would be elevated, as in “The Jetsons.”

“The city center platform can be heated for ease of snow removal. Frequent openings in the platform will aid ventilation and provide interest for pedestrians above. Gasoline service stations and other automobile orientated commercial services could also be located below the city center platform.”

As you moved outward from the core, “On either side of the city center, also on a platform above the jetport highway, are located two 30-acre high-density (40 units per gross acre) residential areas. These areas are envisioned as high-rise apartments of small unit size to accommodate the many individuals, young couples and small families wishing to live in or near the city center. The plan opposite suggests 16 structures of 300 units each, arranged in four quadrants, accommodating a total of 10,000 to 12,000 persons. … Directly to the north and to the south of the city center platform are located additional high-density (30 dwelling units per gross acre) residential areas. These areas, each comprising approximately 200 acres, are intended to contain a mixture of high and low-rise apartment buildings with a variety of dwelling unit sizes.”

Farther from the center, “The inner ring of the new city consists of twenty neighborhood units arranged two-deep along the jet port highway access link. Each cellular neighborhood unit of the new city is proposed to be similar in design, housing approximately 9,000 persons, or 2,700 families. Each neighborhood unit measures approximately 4,000 feet by 2,500 feet, or 240 acres, of which 130 acres are devoted to dwelling units at net densities of 10 to 25 per acre.”

And finally, “The ‘outer ring’ of the new city contains the large land-using facilities required to support the residential ‘inner ring.’ These facilities include six high schools, two hospitals, a college, golf courses, cemeteries, water works, sewer plant, a man-made lake for swimming and boating and a large park and recreational areas. … Also part of the ‘outer ring’ is a 1,200 acre light industrial park to the north of the city and adjacent to the Garden State Parkway.”

The report did mention there might be one small environmental problem.

“Sewage will be a particular problem for the new city in that adjacent to Barnegat Bay is already receiving effluent from existing development to the detriment of shell fishing. … Another possibility is to haul the treated effluent out to sea in barges where it can be dumped.”

With dollar signs in their eyes, government officials began more studies. In February 1963, the Trenton paper ran a letter to the editor.

“Sir: For the past few months, some newspapers have been giving wide publicity to the supporters of a jetport project in the Burlington-Ocean County area of the pinelands. Almost invariably it has been indicated that ‘everyone down there wants it,’ to use Governor Hughes’ words as reported in some newspapers. … Unfortunately, there has been no well-financed and organized group to carry a message to the public in general. … We believe that in all fairness to the proper public consideration of such an important question that these views should be published as widely as possible.”

As politicians talked and planned, something was happening in the country. Rachel Carson’s book The Silent Spring started the modern environmental movement, and people began to question developing New Jersey’s largest piece of open space.

The Asbury Park Press of July 23, 1967, reported on a meeting held in New Gretna.

“A newly formed federation of conservation societies launched a drive yesterday to oppose a Pinelands jetport and establish the region as a national preserve instead. … The Federation of Conservation: United Societies (FOCUS) elected officers at a meeting here and began distributing petitions urging the plan. … ‘The object of this group is not to oppose the jetport, but to get a natural preserve created in the pines because of its value for water storage, recreation and wildlife preservation,’ said A. Jerome Walnut, a FOCUS trustee and president of the Long Beach Island Conservation Society. … ‘I don’t see how it could be located anywhere south of Route 72 and not interfere with this preserve. … In fact, about the only place it could be located in the Burlington-Ocean area would be at McGuire Air Force Base.’”

At about the same time, John McPhee was in Chatsworth writing articles for The New Yorker magazine that became the basis for his book The Pine Barrens. He wrote, “I was in the pines because I found it hard to believe that so much wilderness could still exist so near the big Eastern cities.”

But he concluded by saying, “Given the great numbers and the crossed purposes of all the big and little powers that would have to work together to accomplish anything on a major scale in the pines, it would appear that the Pine Barrens are not very likely to be the subject of dramatic decrees or acts of legislation. They seem to be headed slowly toward extinction.”

In May 1969, Campbell Gardett’s Associated Press articles centered on a place just west of Cedar Bridge.

“HOG WALLOW – At the core of one of the world’s greatest urban areas stands a barren bastion against progress, a vast island of forest almost within hailing distance of a quarter of America’s population. … Surrounded by a fantastically productive industrial complex, many people in the Barrens still live off the forest land, culling berries and poaching deer.

“People in the Pines have television and a choice of newspapers. There are general stores; and one city – Chatsworth – has a modern fire engine. … Today’s Pineys retreat from the urban civilization that seems to have overpowered everything but the Pines. … The cause for greatest alarm is a proposed jetport in the Pinelands. … For people in the Pines, it would seem to be a windfall. Land values would certainly rise, with commerce clustering around the huge terminal. … But most Pineys don’t want any part of it. They didn’t come to the Barrens to get rich. If anything, they’re here to avoid money – and to be let alone.”

The tide was beginning to turn, and in February 1969 the jetport received a nearly fatal blow. According to the Trenton Times, “Ocean County Freeholder Director George F. Makin has apparently bent with the will of the people in vigorously opposing the installation of a jetport in the Ocean-Burlington County area.

“Two years ago the Ocean County freeholder said that a jetport in the Pinelands could prove a boon to the local economy while assisting in conservation control. … The freeholder director said at the state meeting this week, ‘I am flatly opposed to the location of any major jet airport in the Ocean-Monmouth County region because of the sincere feeling of what I consider a majority of citizens of my county.’

“He indicated that for the past several months he has been quietly testing public opinion on the subject. … ‘As an elected representative, I am trying objectively to honestly represent the opinions of my constituents in this matter,’ he said.”

Today the only jets heard at Cedar Bridge Tavern are military, practicing at the nearby Warren Grove Bombing Range. But the Pines are still under attack, as land deals have allowed Barnegat and Stafford townships to nibble away at them west of the Garden State Parkway, and to the south a pipeline will cross them, while hundreds of ATVs break its silence and disturb its tranquility. But at least there is no jetport or “New City”!

Next Week: Buying a tavern.


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