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This Just In : Fort Hancock STILL a Mess

Officers Club at Ft Hancock Needs Some Work; NPS Photo

The Officer's Club at Fort Hancock needs some work. NPS Photos.

I've got a book title in mind : The Developer and Fort Hancock. This book would probably cover volumes by the time it was complete because the story is sooooo loooong. We've talked about the strange lease deal worked up for the old Army buildings (now managed by the National Park Service) at Fort Hancock before (Oct 12, 06; Nov 2, 06; Jul 3, 07; Aug 10, 07; Aug 22, 07; and probably more).

If you haven't read those other pieces, here is a super quick recap -

  • In 2004, the NPS gave a 60 year lease to develop old army buildings in Fort Hancock
  • A citizens group is fighting the plan (lead by a retired Superior Court judge)
  • The developer can't find development money, so the Park Service grants extensions (5 so far)
  • A New Jersey congressman called for an investigation into this "debacle"
  • Many feel developer would over-commercialize property; plan would restrict access to recreation
  • Many feel development would be inconsistent with traditional use of historic buildings
  • Many see parallels with commercialized development of NPS buildings like those of the Presidio (a management trend?)

So, here is the latest: Last week, the District Court Judge says the Park Service hasn't done anything wrong by granting this developer the lease. "The decision to lease 36 buildings in the Fort Hancock Historic District to (Sandy Hook) Partners was not arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or contrary to any law."

Save Sandy Hook, the group fighting the plan, will meet to consider an appeal. In the meantime, they have suggested that even if this development plan goes through, it is destined for failure. In a recent letter to the editor of the Asbury Park Press, Peter P. O'Such Jr. points out that a larger, better financed development is planned only a few miles south of Ft. Hancock, and is also next to the ocean. Says O'Such of the other non-park affiliated development,

[The] complex will become the largest convention center and hotel campus between New York and Philadelphia. The plan calls for 275 residential condos, 200 condo-hotel units, 103,000 square feet of office space, 250,000 square feet of retail space and 2,300 parking spaces. The plan also calls for a 12- to 14-screen cineplex and a bowling center, all next to an art and theater district.


With a development like that, asks O'Such, what chance does the Ft Hancock developer have at success? It is suggested, that the developer's plan may be dead on arrival. Stay tuned for the next chapter in this continuing saga, sure to hit the virtual pages of the National Parks Traveler soon.

The NPCA produced a 40 page document in May called "Gateway National Recreation Area; A Resource Assessment" that may be worth the download if you are looking for more info about this subject.


I repeat my thoughts on the Presidio of San Francisco: If you believe modern, commercial uses of large, multi-building areas are inconsistent with the purpose of a unit in the National Park system, then take them out of the System and give them to the BLM or create a new agency to manage federal property of this kind.

But I can't believe anyone would prefer those areas to rot and and fall into decay. There simply is nothing better to do with a former army fort then development and bringing back life. Make sure that one building is set aside as a museum, ensure access of the public to beaches or other attractive places, but use the place. With modern sustainable purposes. If this is not the job of NPS, well give it to someone else.

Make a decision NPS -- are the buildings worth keeping or not? Privatization and for-profit means that someone somewhere is thinking the thought "is it more cost effective and/or profitable to just tear these buildings down and build anew than to follow historical guildelines and attempt to preserve these buildings?" At some point in the future, greed (or need) will outweigh the desire to maintain these buildings. And then not only has the line been crossed, it's been completely moved and new precedents have been set. Why is it that "business" has to drive the funding of our kids sports teams, our kids' education, national parks, and everything else that we hold dearly? When I have to pay three dollars for a Junior Ranger book at Park XYZ, I expect there NOT to be some company's name or logo on the inside cover of it. Somebody somewhere has a hand in both of my pockets, and I don't appreciate it.

The decision on keeping Fort Hancock's buildings has already been made for the NPS, the Fort having been placed on the Natonal Register some time ago. While the Sandy Hook Unit of the Gateway NRA covers more than 1,600 acres, Fort Hancock is only a little more than 10% of this, with an active Coast Guard base being about the same, and the Sandy Hook Proving Ground, the other zone of the historic district, being slightly more. This was the nation's first proving ground, abandoned for Aberdeen only when the increasing range of "modern" guns exceeded its limits. The balance consists of wildlife habitat, largely holly forest, with beach along the entire Atlantic side [complete with parking for 6,000 cars, and modern facilities for beach-goers], and some on the Bay side, used primarily by windsurfers. A recently completed bike trail runs the entire 6-mile length of the Hook, and plans for the Fort include a new pier for ferry service, which this summer doubled to over 13,000 riders. It doesn't make sense to talk of getting rid of an integral piece of something that's going to stay a national park, particularly one that will generate some revenue to help sustain the rest.

The Hook's military history runs from occupation by the British in 1778 to cold war Nike batteries, with WWII gun batteries and radar domes above in the Highlands of the Navesink, where I live, and artillery and mortar batteries along the shore in the Proving Ground zone. Fort Hancock is not a single building such as that of which Kurt Repanshek has spoken, but a complex of more than 100, many completed around the same period in a uniform style. The Lighthouse and Keepers' Quarters have been restored by the Sandy Hook Foundation [who supports the plan, and already operates a museum, "History House," there] under the strict requirements of the Department of the Interior's Guidelines, and the even more stringent ones of the NJ SHPO. The work to be done in the Fort is covered by these same requirements, and we all know that the NPS doesn't have this kind of money.

The plan provides for a minimum of 30% educational use, to join the American Littoral Society, Brookdale Community College, Clean Ocean Action,
the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration - Northeast Fisheries Center - Sandy Hook Laboratory, James J Howard Marine Laboratory,
Marine Academy of Science and Technology, New Jersey Marine Sciences Consortium, Rutgers University - Institute of Marine & Coastal Sciences,
Sandy Hook Bird Observatory [NJ Audobon Society], Sandy Hook Child Care Center, and Sandy Hook Foundation, already there. Does the addition of more of the same, with food service, meeting & training facilities, and lodging for them, their guests, and others sound like rampant commercialization? I was born about 5 miles from the Hook, and have lived within hiking distance of it all of my life, with the exception of time at school and in the Army. During that time I was billeted in a building that has the good fortune of being within a National Historic District that is still an active military base, and polished a floor that Custer might have walked on. I've watched with sadness for more than 30 years as Fort Hancock's buildings have slowly decayed. I don't want to see these buildings fall down, although "Save Sandy Hook" does, and has said so. I want to see them restored, and I'd welcome the opportunity to polish the floors of one of them once they are.

Officers row and all the surrounding historical bldgs MUST be saved. I simply cannot understand why this is debatable. Save Sandy Hook should want to save the bldgs - whatever it takes! They should all be brought back to their formal glory, but it is going to take a ton of work and money. There should be local fundraisers going on. Anyone who wants to stand in the way of that is an idiot! What the heck is going on?!?!?!?

I was stationed at Fort Hancock from August 1966 to July 1969. My family and I occupied the south half of the only duplex on officers row for the last two years of that time. I can tell you for fact that it took a ton of money and time for the post engineers to maintain all of these facilities. I was also stationed at Fort Sheridan just North of Chicago when that facility was deactivated in late 1990s and early 2000s. Some parts of Fort Sheridan have been turned into a gated community wherein their officers row and historic registry buildings have been restored and sold by developers. You need to look at Fort Sheridan as a model. I could see how the buildings at Fort Hancock could be restored with the housing and large buildings all being housing units in a gated community. People working in NYC would jump at the chance to own homes and condos while maintaining the historic requirements. There could also be both boat and helicopter shuttle service to NYC. Commute time would be cut to 15 - 30 minutes. I make this suggestion because to just restore and maintain even a few of the Fort Hancock buildings is beyond the combined resources of all of you with this most noble of ideas. Let a developer restore and sell the buildings as houses and condos. Please, do check out what was done at Fort Sheridan. Their plan was the only way to save that site.

I lived in #2 Officiers Row back in the mid 60s while my father George was stationed there. Even as a small elementary school child, I could see how incredible these houses were. It is unbelievable what has been allowed to happen to these incredible homes and WOW, the officers club. With the site being on the water front, it is crazy that these are not still operating as some kind of vacation /resort site. With the theater and OC it would have been just incredible. If something isn't done soon , it will be too late. I'm sure most of the moldings and wood work, flooring is already destroyed by water and time. Makes me VERY sad to see it this way.

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