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New Jersey Towns Battle -- and Beat -- the U.S. Navy

That was the reaction of local leaders in Monmouth County, New Jersey when the U.S. Navy announced it would not rent out some of its military housing.

In the 1980s, the Navy targeted the Naval Weapon Station in Earle, NJ -- just a few miles from New York City -- for growth. This required not only investment in munition storage and production but also housing. With the end of the Cold War, plans for the base were scaled back. Some of the units built by Washington-state contractor, Teri Fischer, have never been occupied.

The Navy continued to pay rent to Fischer, while trying to figure out what to do with all of the spanking new multi-family housing. The best plan, the Navy decided, was to convert 300 units of it into private-sector rental housing. Although the government would still own the land the houses were built on, the units would join the normal housing market.

Not so fast, was the immediate response from the towns of Colts Neck, Tinton Falls, Howell, Wall and Middletown. The communities worried that the new residents would mean more demand on their schools and roads, without an equivalent boost in property taxes: Is difficult for a local government to tax property on federal land.

And the changes to base security requirements after 9/11 meant the houses would be isolated from the rest of the area as the only road to them went through the main base itself. When the Navy offered to build a new road, New Jersey officials insisted on study to analyze the costs and effects -- a common way to slow down or kill a project.

Because of these roadblocks, the Navy has decided not to proceed with the plan to allow public use of the housing. The Navy is working with Fischer to figure out what to do with the buildings when the contract to use them ends this month. They might still be released into the market if it could be done in a way that transfers the land as well, but that would require breaking up the base. Or perhaps the government will figure out some way to use them. A simple buyout is also possible.
They could even be torn down -- another casualty of the Cold War, and, perhaps, suburban snobbery.

Photo: Flickr user joiseyshowaa