MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — A tangle of small, undersized lots in Burleigh have so far stymied development plans for about 40 acres of land, officials said, but a resolution passed Monday night could clear the way for the area to be developed.

According to township attorney Frank Corradoa, a long-forgotten property owner sold off tiny plots of land in the township in the 1930s. Known as “newspaper lots,” they were sold to people around the country through classified ads as a way for folks to own a bit of land by the shore.

Unbuildable, yet still a spot near the Jersey Shore.

Over the years, many people forgot about or abandoned the properties, and the township was able to foreclose and take ownership, said township business administrator Elizabeth Terenik.

However, 30 of the properties are still in private hands, and the owners are presumably current on taxes, Terenik told council members.

The 40 acres form a patchwork of vacant land bounded by the township bike path, Sound Drive, Indian Trail and New York Avenue, with the unbuildable lots scattered throughout.

This week Mayor Mike Clark and Committeeman Tim Donohue passed a resolution authorizing the Planning Board to conduct a preliminary investigation into condemnation of area for redevelopment. Committeeman Jeff DeVico was absent.

Condemnation, also known as eminent domain, may be the only way to consolidate the property into a single block, Corrado said.

“Some of the lots, we don’t know who owns them or who the descendents are,” Corrado said. “For some of the properties, the chain of title goes back into the mists of time.”

State law requires that the property be designated as a “condemnation redevelopment area” before the township moves forward with any plans to move forward with eminent domain and foreclosure on the tiny lots.

If the Planning Board investigation results in a recommendation of condemnation, state law would allow the municipality to move forward with its plans, and also to offer tax incentives in certain situations to potential developers, Corrado said.

It would also allow the township to adjust zoning requirements for the parcel to maximize the use of the land.

“We’re in very preliminary stages,” Corrado said. “The plan is to study to see whether the land should have the new designation. If so, a plan would be developed for the area.”

Terenik said redeveloping that site, along with others, is part of the 2008 township master plan.

“We still have not seen development on these sites,” she said. “We may need more tools for development that are consistent with the master plan goals.”

Township officials had hoped that over the years, property owners would sell the lots, clearing the way for Middle Township to join the land into a single developable chunk. In some cases, that happened. In others, people neglected their taxes and lost the small plot to foreclosure.

Corrado said this week that he would begin the process of trying to find the owners of the 30 lots or their descendents.

“We will try to notify all of the owners,” Corrado said. “But we may have to foreclose on some of the properties.”

In other business, Clark and Donohue approved a resolution to seek a $125,000 county Open Space grant to rehabilitate the tennis courts at the Martin Luther King Center in Whitesboro.

“The tennis courts are past their useful life,” Clark said.

Donohue said the courts were often used by local youth, and members of the Homework Club.

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Middle Township Gazette reporter. Call me anytime you have news for the paper or the website. 609-365-6176