By John Burton
RUMSON — A group of area residents are hoping they can muster enough support to preserve a borough property that they believe has historical significance.
The group, who met for the first time on Thursday, July 26, has begun hashing out ideas to save the Rohallion Estate, 45 Bellevue Ave., a sprawling 5-acre property with numerous large specimen trees and an expansive multistory home nestled in the center.
The 10 members of the group walked through the palatial home and grounds. “Rumson starts losing its estates, it starts losing its validity,” fears Bob Baxter, a North Rohallion Drive resident and a member of the group.
“I grew up here,” around the estate, said Nick McCabe, another area resident. “And I can’t tell you how beautiful it was.”
McCabe’s parents bought their property, about 3 acres on North Rohallion, in the 1950s from the then-owners of estate.
The fear for some is that the 5-acre tract will eventually be purchased and subdivided for development, possibly putting at risk the home, designed by the iconic late 19th and early 20th century architect Stanford White, who was responsible for the original Madison Square Garden.
“We’re looking at a little piece of our heritage disappearing,” Baxter said.
The group is only in its infancy, but participants are discussing the possibility of raising the money needed to purchase the property, or if the property can be purchased by local or Monmouth County government to use for something appropriate. “You could do so much that wouldn’t be invasive,” McCabe said.
“You could look at it as a park,” Baxter suggested.
Another possibility would be to find a private buyer to consider using the location for a business that would work in the existing residential neighborhood, such as a bed-and-breakfast or even a catering facility.
Edward Dean Adams commissioned White to design a country home in 1887, with the architect using a Normandy chateaux as his model, according to a history written by Derrill W. Hart.
Khaled Mostafa is the current owner, according to borough tax rolls. It has been on the market for the last couple of years, said Pauline Poyner, with Coldwell Banker real estate agency.
Borough tax records indicate it is assessed for $3,250,000, and the real estate listing puts the selling price at about $4.5 million, down from the original price of just under $5 million.
Mayor John Ekdahl said borough officials “actually gave some thought to (purchasing) it before we built the new municipal building,” on East River Road a few years ago.
However, when officials looked at the building, they found it would have been difficult – if not outright impossible – to reconfigure it for the borough’s uses and meet current requirements. “The layout just wasn’t appropriate to an office setting,” said Ekdahl.
“At the end of the day I would love to see some public elegant use,” McCabe said.
But the trick, observed, Jamie Wark, a Linden Lane resident who is part of the group, is “to figure out ways to make it financially feasible.”
Group members said their next task will be to put together a plan to present to interested parties to begin the conversation about saving the location.
Baxter was not deterred by the challenge.
“We’re going to save it,” he said. “And, more than save it, we’re going to reinvent it into something that we all can be proud of.”
The location, which is zoned for residential use that needs a minimum 1.5 acres for development, is adjacent to Rumson Country Day School, a private school.
Any future subdivision of the property could prove problematic, Ekdahl speculated, given the location’s wealth of “some magnificent trees,” and the borough’s tree protection ordinance.
The mayor shared group members’ appreciation of the site. “It was probably the most magnificent property in Rumson for years, or decades,” he said.