By Joseph Sapia
N.W.S. EARLE – The U.S. Navy has agreed to a temporary freeze on renting housing to the general public on Naval Weapons Station Earle because of concerns raised by the surrounding community.
The freeze, in place to Feb. 1, was agreed upon at a Nov. 22 meeting Assistant Secretary for the Navy Dennis V. McGinn held in Washington with area elected officials – Congressman Chris Smith, state Sen. Jennifer Beck and Colts Neck Township Committeeman Russell Macnow. Smith had requested the meeting because of concerns he and others raised over maintaining security and the costs associated with educating children in area public schools.
The concerns began after Northeast Housing, which operates 89 family-style housing units at a Colts Neck section of Earle, approached the Navy in late summer about opening up the housing to the general public. Of the 89 units, 17 are currently vacant, said Bill Addison, an Earle spokesman.
Information on the meeting – described as “cordial” by Macnow – was released by Beck’s office only in the last week.
“We’re happy the assistant secretary has agreed to put a moratorium on it to work out an amicable resolution,” Macnow said. “We’ll continue to press this with all we think is appropriate.” Macnow said he did not think renting to the general public was in the best interest of the community.
What happens now is unclear.
With a new U.S. president coming into office, perhaps the conversation between the Navy and area officials will take place again, Macnow said. Maybe the vacant housing can be used by veterans, he added.
Or perhaps, as happened a few years ago in a similar situation, the Navy will buy out the contract with Northeast Housing, a subsidiary of the Balfour Beatty Communities real estate company. Macnow said that likely would be an expensive option because it appears Northeast and the Navy are in the early stages of a 50-year contract.
Addison redirected questions on the matter to the Navy in Washington.
No one from the Navy press office in Washington was immediately available for comment. Northeast Housing has generally declined comment.
“Balfour Beatty Communities manages the housing as a partnership with the Navy,” said Kathy Grim, senior vice president of marketing and communications for Balfour Beatty Investments. “Ultimately, the issues currently being discussed around this housing involve the Navy and the communities in which NWS Earle is situated. That being the case, we have no comment on these issues at this time.”
The federal Department of Defense began privatizing military base housing in 1996; there are about 3,000 members of the general public living on bases around the country. Earle did not join the privatization program until 2004 and, in the 12 years since then, has never had general public living on the base.
Earle – which sits on 12,000 acres in Colts Neck, Tinton Falls, Middletown, Howell and Wall – stores and ships ammunition Outside of civilian employees and government contractors working on site, there are 245 active military assigned to it. The base is patrolled by Navy security with military-policing powers and private security guards without formal police powers.
Public renters would have free movement on the administrative area of the base. Beyond that, security restrictions are layered on the base.
“I think any consideration opening that up to the general public is insane,” said Lillian G. Burry, a member of the Monmouth County Board of Freeholders and a Colts Neck resident. “You can’t properly vet people. It just doesn’t make any sense.”
“We have urged the Navy to re-evaluate its dangerous current proposal in the context of recent terrorist events, especially events in New Jersey,” Smith said.
In 2010, Smith was among those who successfully fought a similar proposal at another section of Earle – the Laurelwood Housing Units. The Navy agreed to buy out that housing agreement.
“Clearly, the Department of Defense has heard our concerns,” Beck said. “However, this is only a temporary solution and I will continue to oppose any plan allowing civilians to utilize Earle housing. I don’t believe allowing members of the general public to live on an active military weapons installation is an acceptable proposal for our region.”
“The Navy has a differing opinion to the security risk, or lack thereof,” Macnow said. “We, obviously, have a different take.”
Tinton Falls Mayor Gerry Turning said he was unaware of the Washington meeting.
“I really can’t comment because you know more than I do,” Turning told a reporter.
The 89 family-style housing units, either single-family or townhouse-style, generally have three or four bedrooms. They are to rent at the market price of $2,400 per month.
The housing is rented first to active duty military assigned to Earle, then in this order to other active duty military, military reservists and National Guard members, Department of Defense civilian personnel and retired military – all with military or defense department identification.
If a home is vacant for 30 days, the agreement between Earle and Northeast allows the units to be rented to the general public. Security checks of renters are required, with the Navy ultimately approving a renter.
This school year, the Tinton Falls school district has been educating 75 students from the base in kindergarten through eighth grade. The Freehold Regional School District has been educating 11 at Colts Neck High School.
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