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. George Washington's troops wintered during the American Revolution, but the monks who own it will not allow the government to appraise the property.

According to Michael Henderson, superintendent of Morristown National Historical Park, the monks have denied the Park Service access to the property to perform an appraisal.

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

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

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

The land currently is zoned for single-family homes on minimum 3-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 low millions" to keep the land as open space.

Wells said the Green Acres program would buy the land if the price was reasonable. The National Park Service would then repay the state for the land over time and add the property to Jockey Hollow, which is part of 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 would make 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 because the government couldn't afford the land.

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

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

However, the monks say that if the township rejects the retirement facility proposal, they will try to sell up to 180 acres for builders to put 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 of the land near Jockey Hollow, where Washington's troops wintered during the Revolution.

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

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