Growth Versus Preservation in Egg Harbor City

Egg Harbor City in Atlantic County lies between Galloway and Mullica townships with the Mullica River forming its northeastern border. Established in the mid-19th century shortly before the American Civil War by German Americans, many from Philadelphia and Baltimore fleeing anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant violence inspired by the Know-Nothing movement, Egg Harbor City reflects this past with streets named after famous German citizens as well as the world’s cities.

In his book Jersey Genesis, Henry Charleton Beck notes that Stephen Colwell, a wealthy Philadelphian, and William Ford owned what is now Egg Harbor City along with large portions of Galloway and Mullica “from the channels back of Brigantine to the line beyond Westcoatville.” After Colwell died in 1871, his widow Sarah Richards Colwell gave the municipality a hand-written deed for a parcel of land that included what is now the 400-acre Egg Harbor City Lake Park with restrictions on how the land could be used.

View of Egg Harbor City Lake on a clear spring day with blue sky and water and lake ringed with pine trees in the Jersey Pine Barrens
Egg Harbor City Lake (Photo by Beach and Barrens)

Railroads and Wine

Beck described Egg Harbor City as “the village that deserted a river for a railroad,” referring to a historic railroad that connected Philadelphia and Camden to nearby Atlantic City. The Atlantic City Line currently runs along the same track with a stop at the Egg Harbor City Rail Station. The rail line runs parallel to the nearby White Horse Pike and forms one of Egg Harbor City’s borders. Beck mentioned that the original plan was to develop the township from the railway to the Mullica River.

According to the  VisitNJ website, the Egg Harbor City Historical Society maintains the Roundhouse Museum with “displays that cover the city’s Teutonic history, its time as a health sanitarium (the Roundhouse once belonged to a Dr. Smith, who touted the town’s therapeutic waters)” along with “glassworks displays and information on the town’s oenophile background (there were 96, mostly mom and pop, wineries located here at the turn of the century!).” Today, two wineries, Renault Winery and Sylvin Farm Winery, maintain production in Egg Harbor City. 

Pinelands Designations

When I lived in Brigantine, I drove through the most heavily developed section of Egg Harbor City along the White Horse Pike on a daily basis. Located in the southwest corner of town, this area is designated a Pinelands Town according to the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP), one of “seven large, existing spatially discrete settlements, generally with wastewater or water supply systems.” 

The section of Egg Harbor City located along the Mullica is designated a Preservation Area District, “the heart of the Pinelands environment and the most critical ecological region…. No residential development is permitted, except for one-acre lots in designated infill areas and special ‘cultural housing’ exceptions, on minimum 3.2 acre lots for property owned by families prior to 1979. Limited commercial uses are also permitted in designated infill areas, which total approximately 2,100 acres in size.”

In between the Pinelands Town and Preservation Area, is the section with a CMP designation as Forest Area, “a largely undeveloped area that is an essential element of the Pinelands environment. It contains high quality water resources and wetlands and provides suitable habitat for many threatened and endangered species. Clustered housing on one acre lots is permitted at an average residential density of one home per every 28 acres. Roadside retail within 300 feet of pre-existing commercial uses is permitted, as are low intensity recreational uses.”

Egg Harbor City Lake Park

​​Egg Harbor City Lake Park, the popular recreation area given 150 years ago by Sarah Colwell, became the subject of controversy last year. TackeDirect, a retail fishing outfitter retail company based in Egg Harbor Township, sought permission to build a warehouse at the park. The plan, initially approved by the Land Use Board of the City Council, met with concern and resistance from many residents and protest from the Pinelands Preservation Alliance. As a result, the plan was ultimately rejected. 

Sustainable EHC Meeting

This video is from the November 23, 2021 meeting of Sustainable EHC, the city’s green team. It’s long, but if you go to about the 1:20 mark, there’s a great in-depth discussion about the history of the park and details about the redevelopment plan from citizens of EHC. I learned a lot from this. Here’s a summary of what was said during the meeting:

Sarah Colwell’s deed restricted where public parks, marketplaces, residences would be built. Extra large lots were set aside for use as small farms. The original German settlers planned to build a city all the way to the Mullica River with Egg Harbor City Lake park preserved as a section of green space within the envisioned vibrant urban center. With the passage of state regulations to protect wetlands, an urbanized Egg Harbor City never came to pass. Today about “eight to nine/tenths” of the municipality is not developable. The places that could be developed are upland areas such as a pocket of upland in the park not protected by the state wetlands regulations. 

Along came TackleDirect, who originally wanted to build, not just a 70,000 square foot warehouse, but wanted to move their entire operations to Egg Harbor City, something that would require over 40 acres. Seeing themselves as a “nature-based business” promoting fishing, they wanted a location next to the lake and designed their planned site to be wilderness-like, outdoorsy and countrified. They also wanted to be involved with New Jersey’s Hooked on Fishing – Not on Drugs program. 

Ultimately, though, the residents of Egg Harbor City wanted to protect the history, recreational opportunities, and character of the lake and park. Sustainable EHC sent a position letter to Mayor Lisa Jiampetti and the Egg Harbor City Council stating “TackleDirect would be a welcome addition to the city’s business community, but that the project should be located outside of the 400-acre park’s boundaries. Members believe there are other areas in Egg Harbor City that need to be redeveloped in accordance with New Jersey’s Local Redevelopment and Housing Law, such as the Tower site, old city landfill, and the Acme, Better Built Door and marine building sites along the White Horse Pike.”

See the following articles for more information about the controversy: