Fort Hancock: Home Sweet Home?

November 22, 2013
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By John Burton

FORT HANCOCK – Some of the aging and deteriorating structures along Fort Hancock’s officer’s row could eventually wind up as family homes.

The 21st Century Fort Hancock Advisory Committee, which is seeking ways to preserve and save the rundown buildings at the historic former U.S. Army installation at Gateway National Recreation Area at Sandy Hook, has been seeking Requests for Expression of Interests for potential uses for the structures.

While the prevailing thought has been for using the property for more business uses, like those already there, there has been some interest in renovating the buildings for residential use.

“We have responses with all different kinds of visions and possible uses,” National Park Service (NPS) spokesman John Warren. “And, yes, some of those are from people who want to fix up a house and live there.”

Some people who have attended previous advisory committee public sessions “have specifically mentioned that they were interested in residential use of the buildings,” he said.

Monmouth County Freeholder Lillian Burry has “already gotten two inquiries from people I know of” expressing an interest in living there. Burry, a member of the Fort Hancock advisory committee, said one of those interested “talked in terms of it as being something that his family would enjoy for years to come.

“As long as it fits into the criteria of the restoration of the property, you’re not in any way harming the integrity of the historic nature of the building and as long as you have the financial ability to carry it through,” Warren said. Some of those who have taken a tour of the site being offered by the NPS have expressed a real desire and knowledge of historic restoration. “The people I’ve spoken to said, ‘My spouse and I are interested in having one of the buildings and fixing it up and living here,’” he said.

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More than a decade ago the park service sought to partner with a private developer to renovate and restore the 36 historic structures badly in need of repair at the fort. In exchange, the developer would get a 60-year lease to use the buildings for a variety of for- and not-for-profit uses. The park services touted this as a means of preserving the historically significant site without relying on taxpayer money. The plan, however, became mired in controversy and federal legal battles as critics voiced objections to what they saw as commercialization of public parkland. Eventually, the park service canceled its contract with the developer when he failed to meet numerous deadlines to obtain funding for the project.

Neither Burry nor Warren, who were not directly involved with the Fort Hancock project at the time, remembered residential use coming under consideration then.

Last year the park service formed the advisory committee, made up of people from the business, science, recreation and cultural realms and local officials, to again conceive of a plan to save the buildings.

The committee advertised in October for requests from interested parties to use any or all of the 36 structures along officer’s row. So far the NPS has received responses for a possible bed-and-breakfast and other businesses, both for profit and not-for-profit uses, said Warren. They have also received interest from those who might want to rehab the building for homes.

Currently, a number of structures at the fort are used for not-for-profits such as environmental organizations and a child care facility.

The officer’s row buildings start at about 7,400 square feet. Most were built in the late 19th century to serve as homes for officers stationed at the fort and their families.

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Those who wish to use the structures for a residence would be “taking on a lot” because of their condition and the need to repair them in keeping with the U.S. Department of the Interior guidelines for historic structures, Warren said.

The NPS would remain as the owner and those rehabilitating the structures would be long-term leaseholders, Burry noted.

“The location is overwhelmingly beautiful,” Burry said.

Warren agreed.

“It’s hard to beat the view, I have to say that,” he said.

The advisory committee will be accepting the Requests of Expressions of Interest until 5 p.m. Monday, Dec. 16. The advisory committee will review the offerings.

“Any legal proposal that fits with the standards of historic preservation will be considered,” Warren said. “It may not be accepted but it will be considered.”


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