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"Death of the Fox" Tavern

UPDATES | The Urgent Problem | Photographs
What YOU Can Do

On February 24, 2004 while visiting the home of Jim and Nancy Sery on Kings Highway at the Mount Royal/Clarksboro, N.J.line--they own of the historic "Death of the Fox" Tavern (in the township of East Greenwich, Gloucester County) to take a photograph of their house for the upcoming town calendar. I was met with some shocking news (it is MY opinion that this news was shocking)..

A local landowner of the land abutting--the side and back of--the property where the Death of the Fox sits, has made arrangements through a building construction company, [Beazer Homes] to place a development called THE ESTATES AT MOUNT ROYAL of approximately 48-51 houses in close proximity to the Death of the Fox tavern on Kings Highway in East Greenwich, N.J.. [at block 502, lots 41 and 44]. Preliminary plans were submitted to the East Greenwich planning board. It is my opinion, and that of many others, that placement of "new houses" in the planned area will certainly destroy the historic landscape and integrity of this old tavern forever. According to our township's Mayor, Dave Jenkins, the East Greenwich Township committee offered to purchase this land in order to preserve its future use; as I understand it, the owner refused.

The news article below of February 2006 indicates that "Beazer has slightly changed its original 51-home plan, first submitted to the board in November 2003, by eliminating the lot next to the 277-year-old Death of the Fox Inn." If this is true, and continues to be true, then kudos to Beazer for making the proposed changes. Only the future will say whether they continue on this path, or change their minds yet again. What were they thinking?

UPDATE: The landscape directly around this home is NO LONGER ENDANGERED, please read below....

CASE UPDATES (most recent updates first)
Note: I have removed several links below that have become outdated, i.e. the links to the original newspaper articles are no longer available online, due to the articles being archived the the respective newspapers.

October 2007 - THANK YOU TO EVERYONE who wrote, appeared at various meetings or otherwise voiced their support!!! I have been
informed by a town official that this case has been resolved in favor of the Death of the Fox. The owners of the property (the Botto family) and the builders, Beazer Homes, have agreed to abide by the zoning laws of East Greenwich Township, and will not build new new homes within 100 feet of the boundary line of the land on which the lovely historic "Death of the Fox" sits. This case had been THREE YEARS in the courts.

February 2007 - This case is still being appealed in court by East Greenwich Twp.

January 2006 - Planning Board Minutes excerpt: "Beazer Homes had appeared in June 2004 with this application and it was denied without predjust because of our new zoning change. The Lower Court demanded we hear this application under the old ordinance that was in effect at the time of submission." SEE Zoning Board Minutes of January 17, 2006 - rtf file

2/20/06 Gloucester County Times (see directly below) |     2/22/06 Courier Post

Article from Gloucester County Times
E. Greenwich to discuss home plan
Monday, February 20, 2006
By Allegra Tiver ativer@sjnewsco.com
EAST GREENWICH TWP. -- Beazer Homes is expected to return before the planning board on Tuesday to discuss its plan to develop 50 homes between Berkeley and Whiskey Mill roads in Mount Royal.

The project was tabled by the planning board at its January meeting.

Beazer has slightly changed its original 51-home plan, first submitted to the board in November 2003, by eliminating the lot next to the 277-year-old Death of the Fox Inn.

The parcel, previously a hotbed of controversy over historic integrity, could go to the township or become part of the homeowners association, said township planner Michael Wisnoski, of Ragan Design Group.

Beazer proposed an alternate plan -- 46 homes and a recreation field with a tot lot, parking lot and bathrooms -- saying it could not make the project work with anything less. This plan met with no success.

Residents in January expressed concerns about the removal of trees and interfering with the habitats of wildlife.

"These are not items that can affect our decision upon approval," said Committeeman David Jenkins. "A lot of people in New Jersey don't understand how powerless planning boards really are."

The board pushed the hearing for the application to Feb. 21, citing traffic, stormwater drainage and recreational space concerns.

The initial application was processed at the same time the township was making zoning changes for its new Master Plan. The new zoning ordinance, finalized in May 2004, decreased the density of homes from three per acre to two.

"If the planning board grants preliminary approval before a zoning change, you're protected from future changes," said John Falciani, counsel for landowner Robert Botto.

But Beazer Homes didn't go before the board until June 2004, at which time the township formally denied the plans to develop the 44 acres.

Botto and Beazer Homes filed two separate lawsuits last summer. The township filed a counterclaim.

Superior Court Judge John Waters found the township complied with procedure in some respects, but contended "there wasn't proper referral by the township committee to planning board," according to Falciani.

Both the Appellate Division and Superior Court remanded Beazer back to the board, to be heard under the former zoning ordinance.

"You have to be realistic," Jenkins said. "If you want to prevent development, you have to purchase the land or get it under open space protection, or else it's eventually going to grow houses."

Article from the
"Courier Post"
February 22, 2006, Section: B, Page: 3B
E. Greenwich housing plan tabled
Reach Lisa Grzyboski at (856) 486-2401
or lgrzyboski@courierpost online.com

A national homebuilder's proposal to erect 50 homes on a densely wooded property off Kings Highway was tabled on Tuesday for the second time in as many months.

Beazer Homes USA of Atlanta, Ga., blamed the latest delay on a letter it received from the township planning board engineer on Tuesday, just a few hours before the planning board meeting.

The board engineer required the company to perform more tests on the 44-acre property's ground water condition, said Bill Ziegler, the attorney for Beazer Homes. That forced the homebuilder to request a postponement until the March 21 meeting, he said.

"The bottom line is they've got significant water problems,"said Mayor John DeGeorge, who sits on the planning board.

Last month, the board tabled the company's application so it could get updated information about the project. Among other things, the board ordered Beazer Homes to do more testing to measure the site's ground water levels, DeGeorge said.

The company didn't have the results until Thursday, the mayor said.

Analysis of the results showed that on 24 acres of the site, less than five feet separates the surface from ground water, said board engineer Tom Cundey in his report. This could force Beazer to redesign the project, he said.

The postponement irritated residents in attendance. While not as many as last month, those who came expressed the same concerns -- traffic and the environment.

The forested site is a place where locals like to walk their dogs, watch wildlife and relax. It also abuts the township's historic Death of the Fox Inn, an 18th Century stopover for local fox hunters.

"We're not saying, "Not in my backyard,' " said Vince Gallagher, who lives in a subdivision next to the property. "We're saying it has to be
done right."

Gallagher and other neighbors want to see fewer homes and as much traffic as possible directed away from Berkley Road, where traffic backs up at rush hour.

The property is now zoned for two homes per acre under the township's master plan, but Beazer Homes argues it should be allowed to build three per acre because it filed its application before the master plan was changed in spring 2004.

The company sued the township and a Superior Court judge in December 2005 ordered the planning board to hear the proposal under the old zoning rules. The township plans to appeal the judge's decision.

August, 2005 - This lawsuit was recently mentioned in the East Greenwich Planning Board minutes. Read for yourself who is still interested in continuing the lawsuit. (rtf file from Official East Greenwich Township web site). Hopefully there will be a positive determination soon.

January 2, 2005 - Happy New Year everyone! No news yet on the outcome of this court case. I will keep you informed when I know anything more. Please keep us in your prayers.

July 5, 2004 - According to the Gloucester County Times, Beazer Homes is "suing the township over a change in local zoning laws that prevented them from moving forward with the project. Two civil complained filed in Superior Court ... ask the court to overturn the ordinances approved by the township committee...two separate suits" (also one by the landowners). They contend they should receive automatic approval of their application. [NOTE: Should they be allowed to do this, their original plan called for a new house to be built within approximately 25 feet from the historic inn].

June, 2004 -
Beazer Homes attended an East Greenwich Planning Board meeting where they were given 3 options by the township solicitor: 1) ask for a continuance to file variances such that they would be requesting the original plans and asking the board to waive all the new standards of RRC (granting variances to take them back to R-15); 2) ask for a continuance and file plans which met the new ordinances, or 3) be denied without prejudice. They chose to be denied without prejudice.

May 11, 2004
- At the East Greenwich Township Committee meeting tonight, the township's solicitor spoke at length regarding the April 27th meeting, and the impact of the below mentioned "protest" on that ordinance. Both he and the township's Planning Board attorney were in agreement that the protest/petition affects only the portion of the ordinance regarding an increase of minimum lot sizes in the RR zone, and does NOT affect the 100-foot buffer for historic homes portion of this ordinance. There was a unanimous vote by the East Greenwich Township Committee to recognize that Ordinance 10-04 was properly adopted in full (except for the portion increasing the minimum acreage in the RR zone to 2 acres which will go back to the Planning Board). According to this ordinance, all builders/developers MUST PROVIDE A 100-FOOT BUFFER BETWEEN HISTORIC HOMES [AS LISTED IN THE TOWNSHIP'S MASTER PLAN] AND NEW DEVELOPMENT. A 100 foot buffer from the property on which the Death of the Fox sits will preserve its landscape for future generations.

April 27, 2004 - Although a majority of our township committee voted to accept the proposed Ordinance 10-04 that would have amended Title 16 ("Land Development Code") of East Greenwich Township, TWO of the committee members (both Democrats) voted NOT to accept it. A "protest/petition" had been filed that evening with the township, protesting the increase in minimum lot sizes from 1 to 2 acres in the RR zone. The matter regarding this ordinance was referred to the Township solicitor. I wish to thank all of those residents who spoke last evening to support the ordinance. I also respect all of the residents who spoke against the ordinance, as I am a strong supporter of one's right to voice their opinions.

April 13, 2004- The East Greenwich Township Committee met and invited public comment on the ordinances that were referred to them by our township's planning board. I voiced my support of the historic property ordinance requiring a 100 foot buffer between new development and historic properties. No one voiced opposition at this time.

April 8, 2004 - The East Greenwich Planning Board met and, following public comment, voted to refer a number of ordinances to the East Greenwich Township Committee. One of those ordinances included a historic ordinance that reads: " A minimum 100 foot buffer must be provided adjacent to all lots on which historically significant structures are located as identified under “Known and Potential Historic Sites in East Greenwich” in the Historic Preservation Element of the Township’s Master Plan." Upon inquiry, the planning board indicated that additional historic properties may be added to the "Known and Potential Historic Sites..." by presenting them to the township's planning board. I approve 100% of this ordinance, as it will protect our township's historic structures and places.

March 26, 2004 - The East Greenwich Township's Master Plan meeting was held last night. It was "standing room only" and many residents spoke to support the historic component of the plan (there was discussion on other parts of the master plan also). The Planning Board voted to ACCEPT the Master Plan! Our next step was to press for an ordinance to be written to extend the distance between new housing and historic properties to 100 feet minimum, and to attend the planning board meeting when this ordinance is presented to the public for comment.

March 19, 2004 - The East Greenwich NJ MASTER PLAN [click on the scrolling "Master Plan" text] is online in PDF format. Please read it! Local residents of East Greenwich, NJ (Clarksboro, Mount Royal and Mickleton) attended the Master Planning meeting on March 26th, and voiced their support of the historic preservation segment. Thank you everyone! NOTE: THIS VERSION OF THE MASTER PLAN DOES NOT INCLUDE THE MOST RECENT UPDATES/CHANGES. Check with the East Greenwich Township Clerk for the most recent edition.

On March 17, 2004 - MANY supporters of preserving the landscape of the Death of the Fox Inn attended the East Greenwich Planning Board meeting. For an hour, residents came forward and voiced their support of preserving the land surrounding this historic tavern.READ my presentation to the Township's planning board on March 16th. It was an open invitation to Beazer homes to act as stewards with us to save Death of the Fox [PDF document].

March 13, 2004 - The Courier Post article about the "Death of the Fox, "Landscape Needs Preserving Too."

The Urgent Problem

Historic places are among our greatest treasures. These are the places that shape our communities, tell our stories, and keep our history alive. The Death of the Fox can be associated with significant historic events. It celebrates our town’s history and identity. Above all, it reflects the East Greenwich and Southern New Jersey experience, instills pride in our achievements, and could potentially attract visitors from across the country and the world. We owe it to future generations of New Jerseyans to cherish, protect and preserve this rich legacy. Our town's character is built upon the Death of the Fox and other historic buildings that have unique characteristics--they differentiate our town from others in South Jersey.

Historic integrity is the authenticity of a property's historic identity, evidenced by the survival of physical characteristics that existed during the property's prehistoric or historic period. Historic integrity enables a property to illustrate significant aspects of its past.

In a nutshell, by drastically changing the physical attributes of the land surrounding this house (i.e. building NEW houses so close that the Death of the Fox will seem out of place, rather than the other way around), the historic integrity of this building WILL BE LOST FOREVER--not just for a while--FOREVER! This issue is not one affecting only one property--it will continue to be a serious problem for all historic properties in East Greenwich until our township residents work to remedy it.

In the past I urged you to contact the development company who have proposed building the ESTATES AT MOUNT ROYAL namely Beazer Homes. YOUR LETTERS HELPED!

SEE THE UPDATES about this development

Beazer Homes

Corporate Headquarters
1000 Abernathy Road
Suite 1200
Atlanta, GA 30328
Phone: 770-829-3700
Fax: 770-481-2808

Beazer Homes Officers | Beazer Homes Board of Directors

Please read the history of this house! It is an important part of not only East Greenwich, N.J.'s history, but has historical significance beyond our township.


Death of the Fox Tavern - picture 1
View of Death of Fox showing house lot. The Sery's property ends on the right side to 2 feet beyond their current driveway (where the vehicle is shown parked); it extends to the white outbuilding/garage (shown in other photo); it extends to the left a short distance beyond the photo to the railroad track, and on the left back side to just inside the tree line shown. The photographs does not do justice to the extremely short distance from the house to the proposed new buildings.
This photograph shows the driveway (on the right) where the property ends, then a small wooded lot with trees and brush which will be cleared for the house and driveway proposed to sit by the white outbuilding/garage.
Death of the Fox Tavern, side yard
This photograph shows the location of the white outbuilding, as it relates to the house itself. One of the proposed new home sites is within 10 feet of this white outbuilding/garage, and will have a driveway out to Kings Highway.
Death of the Fox - another view
This photograph shows the condition (February 2004) of the small lot next to the Sery house (Death of the Fox).

What Can You Do?

Since this issue has been resolved, there is no need for you to do anything. But let us learn a lesson from this. It is up to you to discover what laws and ordinances are protecting (or not) historic properties in your own township. Work with your township officials to protect such homes and properties BEFORE a crisis happens.

Just because a home is historic does not mean that individual property owners or home construction developers will work toward its preservation.


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