Beliefnet
MORRISTOWN, N.J., Jan. 10 (RNS) -- The National Park Service wants to buy and preserve up to 180 acres of land adjacent to an area where Gen. GeorgeWashington's troops wintered during the American Revolution, but themonks who own it will not allow the government to appraise the property.

According to Michael Henderson, superintendent of MorristownNational Historical Park, the monks have denied the Park Service accessto the property to perform an appraisal.

"You can't make an offer without an appraisal and we certainly don'ttrespass," said Henderson, who says that negotiating with the monks hasbeen an exercise in frustration.

The Benedictine monks at St. Mary's Abbey, who run the Delbartoncollege preparatory school, say they need to develop the land to securethe financial future of their order and to provide retirement care fortheir aging members.

Adolph Schimpf, the abbey's vice president of business affairs, saidhe would not allow the government to appraise the land because a lowappraisal would "create confusion and prejudice deliberations as we goalong. We don't want unrealistic information floating around."

The land currently is zoned for single-family homes on minimum3-acre lots and is assessed by Morris Township at $2.8 million.

Thomas Wells, administrator of New Jersey's Green Acres program,said a combination of state and federal agencies would pay "in the lowmillions" to keep the land as open space.

Wells said the Green Acres program would buy the land if the pricewas reasonable. The National Park Service would then repay the state forthe land over time and add the property to Jockey Hollow, which is partof the Morristown National Historical Park and spans 1,700 acres.

The Roman Catholic monks are hoping for a zoning change that would allow them to build an extended care facility on the property, which they hope wouldmake the land worth about $15 million.

The land is among the most desired real estate in the state.

Schimpf said selling to the Park Service was not an option becausethe government couldn't afford the land.

"How can they say we cannot afford the property when we can't getonto the property to do an appraisal?" Henderson said.

The monks have submitted plans to the Morris Township Planning Boardto construct 200 apartment-style units and 40 cottages that could houseas many as 480 senior citizens. In addition, the plans call for 48nursing home beds and 24 assisted living units. The monks say thisdevelopment would sit on 60 acres.

However, the monks say that if the township rejects the retirementfacility proposal, they will try to sell up to 180 acres for builders toput up about 40 single-family houses.

Henderson said the Park Service does not want new development,sewers and wider roads altering the long-preserved historic character ofthe land near Jockey Hollow, where Washington's troops wintered duringthe Revolution.

Schimpf said the monks care about preserving the land, which is whythey want to build the retirement facility on 60 acres instead ofselling 180 acres for single-family home construction. Schimpf said theretirement facility would have less environmental impact than the largerdevelopment of single-family homes.

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