It’s been a long and winding road to passive recreation with respect to Fair Haven’s attempts to acquire the riverfront Robards’ property at the foot of DeNormandie Avenue.
But it is and always has been a well-known, longstanding wish of the Robards, descendants of original estate owner Charles Williams, to preserve the property for public access and enjoyment.
And that’s exactly what borough officials’ intentions are for the $1.3 million swath of waterfront land. They have the means, through a new matching state Department of Environmental Protection Blue Acres Grant, and they have the will. They’re just waiting for cloudy title issues to be cleared up, “which should take roughly a few months,” Mayor Ben Lucarelli said.
The murky title issues have been ongoing for about a year. Unlike with a private property sale transaction, which can close with a portion of the title issues uncleared, when a public entity makes such a purchase, the title must be 100 percent clear, the mayor explained. And that will happen through a judge relatively soon.
While the wait ensues, Lucarelli added, what the acquisition means to residents is better understood through an insight into its significant history and ties with the present waterfront access issues.
Williams was a freed slave who had worked on an estate in the area. His former owner had gifted him the DeNormandie property on which he built his own estate in the 1850s, historic literature tells.
“The estate dates back to the pre-Civil War era,” Mayor Lucarelli said. “It has a great deal of significance and the owners’ wishes to preserve it for public purpose are very much in line with what I think growing up in Fair Haven should be all about. Having a place to go and seine for bait and head over to the dock and fish or just sit and enjoy the beach there is an experience that all children who live here should have; and, that spot is perfect. I grew up in Rumson with the mud of the Shrewsbury River between my toes. Now, that place I have so many great memories of is closed off to the public.”
As the story goes with the DeNormandie property, Mrs. Robards was always known to allow children to access the property to launch their boats and play, always sharing and never claiming ownership of a waterfront access point.
“They could have sold it in the private market, but, as I understand it, it was their preference to have it sold for public use, in keeping with their own belief that the property should be shared because of its location,” Lucarelli said.
The borough has plans to demolish the home on the property and clear space for passive recreation — nothing fancy.
“The only thing I know, at this point, that will definitely be placed on the property is some sort of memorial plaque in honor of the Williams/Robards families, noting the history,” Lucarelli said. “Other than that, I couldn’t honestly say yet. It will be kept simple, as in a passive recreation pocket park.”
What would you like to see on the DeNormandie property? Tell us in the comments section below.