Questions mount over riding center sale

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EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP – The facility and land that house the nonprofit Atlantic Riding Center for Health is under an agreement of sale just 15 days after it was put on the market by Keller Williams Realty.

The listing states the agreement of sale was executed on Sunday, July 22. Closing is set to occur on or before Sept. 7 for the site which, since 1988 has been used as a therapeutic horseback riding center for individuals with disabilities.

There’s much about the sale of the property that is up in the air however, including if it will even happen, according to Robert Reilert, a Margate attorney who has served on the center’s Board of Directors for 10 years and represents them in legal matters. He said the board was approached by someone to purchase the property rather than put it on the market to solicit buyers.

“We had someone come to us, we had not planned on doing any of this,” said Reilert, who spoke to The Current on Tuesday, July 24. “We don’t even know if we will end up selling it. There are so many contingencies. There are no realities at this point.”

Listing agent Mary Ann Wagner, who is also a board member, describes the property as a "First Class Riding facility with fully lighted indoor training facility, 12-plus stalls, indoor wash facilities, feed room, huge tack room, multiple paddocks, outdoor training ring. Full office, waiting room and training room." 

The property is valued at $385,500 by the township for taxation purposes, and it carries annual taxes of $15,800. According to the township tax office, the account is up-to-date.

Reilert said he was unsure about the future of the program if and when the sale is finalized. “We have prospective buyers, and they are all horse people. That’s all I can tell you at this point. I have no idea what their plans may be,” he said. In the meantime, it’s business as usual at the center on Asbury Road, he said. “Lessons are being held. People are boarding their horses. There are summer camps going on.”

Bob Lydon of Brigantine, a volunteer at the center, said the expedited sale raises questions, especially considering that he and a group of other volunteers, former board members and donors were willing to take over the financially ailing center.

"We wrote a letter to them telling them that we could take over and make it viable. It was a quick fix,” Lydon said in a phone interview on Monday, July 23. “All they had to do was turn it over and walk away. But they are refusing to answer our letters and our calls or accept any other alternative to shutting it down."

A group gathered Thursday, July 19 outside the center just before a scheduled board meeting, in hopes of getting "15 minutes of their time," he said.

"They moved the meeting to an undisclosed location and called the Egg Harbor Township Police Department from a remote location, saying there were people there that were told to leave and who were refusing to leave."

According to Lydon, the police officer went inside and found no one and left.

According to Reilert, the group is comprised of folks who have nothing to do with the center. “These are people who haven’t had any contact with the center in years. We haven’t heard from them. They haven’t donated. They aren’t volunteers. Most of the people are connected with next door. They have no ties to ARCH and no ties to the board. They were trespassing that night and disturbed the lessons that were going on. So we called the police.”

“Next door” is Hearts Therapeutic Riding Center at Rolling Seas Farm owned by Sue Adams, former executive director of ARCH. “She wants to take over our facility because she doesn’t have an indoor arena,” Reilert said. “This whole mob is being organized by her.”

But Adams said she is not fueling the situation in any way. “I am pleased to say I am on the sidelines, watching and listening, but not involved in it at all,” she said Wednesday, July 25. “It’s nice to see a new group of people interested in getting involved there.”

According to Reilert, since her departure in 2011, the center has been under steep competition from Adams’ neighboring therapeutic riding center as well as others in the area and is now at a competitive disadvantage. “It’s been harder to fundraise. We serve the same customer base.”

The concerned group was scheduled to appear before Township Committee 6 p.m. Wednesday, July 25 to ask for help saving the center, township Administrator Peter Miller confirmed.

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