Environmentalists are worried about development plans that include a stadium and headquarters for a soccer team co-owned by Gov. Phil Murphy.
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The troubled pro women’s soccer team that Gov. Phil Murphy co-owns may have found a new home — but environmentalists say they’re angry the possible site is part of a sprawling project developers want to build on sensitive land in Ocean County, chopping down thousands of trees in the process.
Murphy’s team, Sky Blue FC, is in “tentative” talks to rent space at Trophy Park, a proposed 200-acre sports and retail complex in Jackson, the project’s developer told NJ Advance Media.
The Tinton Falls-based team is listed as a partner on Trophy Park’s website. Sky Blue would house its headquarters there, use its facilities for practice, and play home games at a 6,000-seat stadium on the site, developer Allen Nau said.
A Jackson public notice from Nov. 23 makes reference to the headquarters and stadium.
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If approved by the township, the complex — projected to open in 2020 — would be built along Propsertown Lake off Route 537, not far from Six Flags Great Adventure amusement park, according to proposals.
It would also include restaurants, a large retail building, two hotels, an indoor arena, athletics fields, and housing and a dining hall for visiting youth and travel sports teams to participate in tournaments and events throughout the year.
The complex would be an upgrade for Sky Blue, which was the subject of reports this summer describing bleak living and working conditions for players. The team currently plays home games at Rutgers University in Piscataway.
But Trophy Park would be built just outside the Pinelands Protect Area and next to Prospertown Wildlife Management Area.
Environmentalists say the project could cause not only destruction of forests but more traffic and runoff from cars, as well as pose a threat to endangered species and wetlands nearby.
They also say they’re surprised Murphy, an avowed progressive Democrat, would be involved.
“Here’s a governor who says he’s for open space and protecting the pines, and they’re gonna come in a take down a forest?” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of environmental group the Sierra Club.
“I thought he believes in urban revitalization,” Tittel added. “Why don’t they build this in Camden or Pleasantville or East Orange or Belleville or something?”
Marc Covitz, president of Crosswicks-Doctors Creek Watershed Association, said he’s “baffled” by Murphy’s involvement.
“If anything, the governor should be out trying to get this piece of property preserved,” Covitz said.
The environmentalists say they’re especially discouraged because plans for Trophy Park come a few years after they sued Great Adventure over a plan to raze 19,000 trees to build a 90-acre solar farm. The three-year legal battle ended with clearing just 40 acres of trees.
Plus, they argue, this could pose conflicts of interest because the project would likely need permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection under Murphy’s administration.
Nau, Trophy Park’s developer, said Murphy has “nothing to do” directly with the development of the project. Nau said Murphy would be a tenant, “and that is tentative to begin with.”
Nau said he approached SkyBlue about playing there and didn’t even know Murphy was an owner at first.
“I just felt because we’re gonna have all these sports going there, to have a professional sports team there would be good,” Nau said. “And they were looking for a place.”
A Murphy spokesman deferred comment to Sky Blue. A Sky Blue spokeswoman did not immediately return a message.
Murphy faced criticism in July after former players and team officials told various media outlets that life at Sky Blue was dismal, with players living in shack-like homes, playing in facilities without showers, and practicing in dirty clothes because of a lack of laundry services.
The governor — who co-owns the team with Steven Temares, the CEO of Bed, Bath & Beyond — said the conditions were “unacceptable” and vowed they would “not go on.”
Jackson Township still needs to approve Trophy Park. A public hearing about the project is set for Monday night before the local planning board.
Nau insisted he’s addressing environmental concerns. He said the complex will use artificial turf, won’t spray pesticides, and the trees being razed are mostly “scrub pines,” many of which are already dead.
“We’ve done everything we needed to do to make sure we’re environmentally correct,” Nau said. “I want it to be something that’s going to be a pristine place.”
Trophy Park would be the second sports complex proposed near Great Adventure this year. Construction began in June on Adventure Crossing, which will include a three-acre sports dome and two hotels.
NJ Advance Media staff writer Steve Strunsky contributed to this report.
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