Mayor asks riding center board to meet with concerned parties

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EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP - Robert Reilert, a board member and legal representative of the nonprofit Atlantic Riding Center for Health, agreed to entertain a proposal from the newly formed group Community Action for the Preservation of ARCH during the Township Committee meeting Wednesday, July 25, provided the proposal is a formal offer to purchase the property from the board that is higher and better than the current agreement of sale they have executed Sunday, July 22.

Reilert and about 20 members of the group spoke to the commitee about the pending sale of the 24-year-old center that was formed to offer therapeutic horseback riding to handicapped individuals. The center and its property were listed by Keller Williams Realty and under agreement in 15 days. Settlement on the pending agreement of sale is scheduled to take place in September.

After nearly an hour of heated debate between Reilert and the group's various members - most notably about a lack of communication from the board - Mayor James "Sonny" McCullough asked for reassurance that Reilert would grant them an audience.

"If you really care about the kids who are handicapped, I am asking to you cooperate with a group of mature people who are concerned with saving ARCH," he said.

"We have a full price contract right now," Reilert said. "If they can come up with something equal or more and have an offer, we can sit down. They have to send us something in writing first."

Brian Hopely, who lives next door to the facility and is not affiliated with either organization, said he was worried about the sale of the property."We are very concerned about where this is going; it's moving too quickly," he said, asking whether the property could be changed into a commercial use.

Township Administrator Peter Miller said if and when the property is sold, the new owners must maintain it as a nonprofit therapeutic riding facility or as a single family home. Any change in use would require a use variance by the zoning board, which would be "extremely difficult" to obtain, he said. "They would have to prove why it could not continue in the capacity it has been for the past 24 years."

Betty Morgan of Mullica Township, a riding instructor at the center, said the main issue should not be forgotten.

"This is about the children. I've been there 20 years almost," she said, tearing up. " All the fundraising we did to build that facility... I know times are tough and things might not run as easily as they used to, but we have a family there. Little by little pieces have been picked off. But I am going to stand there until the end for my riders."

While other similar riding centers exist, the indoor arena makes this property special, according to Rindy Faust of Marmora, a former employee of ARCH, who now works at Hearts Therapeutic Riding Center located next door to ARCH. She said that the handicapped riders need indoor space to continue their lessons when weather is not ideal.

"The reason I am here is because if ARCH closes, Hearts can take the influx," Faust said. "But we have no indoor areas. We have to close in December and reopen in March. When it is hot, when it rains, it's hard for these children to deal with that. People who go year round can no longer get those lessons because of the weather."

Miller said he was unaware that Hearts was operating as a full therapeutic center and needed to have the zoning officer investigate whether such a use is approved at the site.

In the meantime, McCullough said while the committee's authority is limited in such matters, he asked Committeewoman Laura Pfrommer, an accountant by trade, to look into the center's finances and hopes for the best for all parties.

"Hopefully something good will come out what took place here tonight," he said.

Read more:

Questions mount over riding center sale

Riding center up for sale

Atlantic Riding Center for Health

Keller Williams Realty

Riding Center under contract in 15 days

 

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