There was a war of words at the June 15 Manalapan Township Committee meeting, and this time, the criticism of Mayor Andrew Lucas and his farmland preservation application came from someone other than Committeewoman Michelle Roth.
A former mayor of Manalapan, George Spodak, took the floor to reprimand Township Committee members for their lack of transparency over Lucas’ acquisition of a 96-acre parcel of land on Iron Ore Road known as Burke Farm. Specifically, Spodak wants to know how Lucas acquired the farm and more about his relationship with the corporation Diamond Developers, a request Roth has also repeatedly made.
Spodak, a Manalapan resident for the last 45 years who served as mayor in ’78, ’81 and ’84, has openly criticized Lucas in the past on this issue. He speculates that the mayor will receive the 96 acres and possibly make a profit from what he calls "the scam of the century."
“Mr. Lucas, without planting one seed in the ground, you flipped—and the word is ‘flipped’—100 acres of land in a land scheme, a deal, in nine days. $1.15 million of farmland preservation funds for your efforts at taxpayers’ expense,” said Spodak. “This means you’ll receive a 100 acre farm and probably, the way, I’m figuring it, a house for free while the rest of the hard working residents pay for theirs. You’re not being transparent; that’s the biggest problem."
Spodak then turned his criticism to Committeeman Don Holland, who has acknowledged that he worked on Lucas’ application from start to finish.
“Mr. Holland, you said it’s none of our business to know what Mr. Lucas did to buy the farm. You are so wrong it’s pathetic,” said Spodak.
Spodak concluded his comments by asking Lucas, “When are you going to tell the residents what kind of deal you made to acquire this property through the corporation for free?”
Prior to public comment, Roth had brought forward a similar argument against Lucas and one that she has been making since February. Based on information on the Monmouth County clerk’s website and in the Township Planning Board office, Roth has speculated that Diamond Developers was in financial distress as early as 2008, when Don Holland chaired the Planning Board.
Roth questions why Holland did not move to put the land into farmland preservation then and believes he waited until Lucas became mayor.
“The minute Andrew [Lucas] took control, magically it goes into farmland preservation. That’s the point; not about farmland preservation - the process behind it. All the rest of this – these other comments – is smoke in mirrors,” said Roth.
She expressed her suspicion about the into a possible violation on the land and how it was remediated in time for the County Agriculture Development Board meeting on June 1. She also remains skeptical of appraiser James Stuart, who sits on the MCADB. Stuart recused himself from the June 1 vote which unanimously
“This is not the first time that Mr. Stuart has voted on a farmland application for which he had been paid to prepare a survey on. He did it in Manalapan in 2008. You have to question how many other towns he prepared surveys for and he then voted on,” said Roth, concluding her remarks.
After the June 1 MCADB meeting, Stuart, the former mayor of Colts Neck, told Patch that Roth’s accusations were “politically immature.”
“I didn’t know until just recently that he [Mayor Lucas] owned the farm,” said Stuart to Patch on June 1. “My involvement in this farm was to appraise it as owned by Diamond Developers. I don’t know how Mr. Lucas acquired the farm. We’re not interested in how he acquired it; we’re just looking at this property.”
Stuart echoed Holland’s sentiment that the finer details of the acquisition are not the public’s business.
Holland called Roth's latest remarks “unsubstantiated accusations” and repeated that there is no statute in the state of New Jersey saying that a Mayor cannot preserve land. Mayor Lucas also defended himself amid the accusations.
“I got involved in local public service here to do two things primarily: to keep taxes stable and to preserve open space. And those are two things I will never shy away from,” said Lucas.
In a statement to the MCADB on June 1, Lucas referred to himself as a “local farm boy,” who convinced his wife, a Colorado-native, to stay in Manalapan to maintain his family’s estate.
“He’s a farm boy? Yeah, sure. And I’m a ballet dancer,” said Spodak after the meeting last Wednesday.
During the meeting, Lucas said that he will not release the details of the acquisition because he signed a confidentially agreement with Diamond Developers.
“It’s embarrassing that a politician looking to run for reelection continues to make these same empty accusations with no backing to it,” said Lucas about Roth. He calls it a “political vendetta.”
“And as Mr. Spodak keeps saying, that I’m getting a free farm out of this– and he can’t prove it – but he keeps on making that asinine statement,” said Lucas “If this is such a great deal, how come every farmer in the state of New Jersey doesn’t go into farmland preservation? And the answer is very simple. You do not make money on this. You take a sacrifice on this.”
In response to the comment that his argument is asinine, Spodak said, “He [Lucas] hasn’t begun to do what I did in this town and he never will […] There’s something not kosher here. The county is playing along with him.”
The State Agriculture Development Board will review Lucas’ application in the fall.