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Tournaments May 23, 2014

South Jersey soccer venue wrangling with local commission over fields use

By Matthew Levine and Charles Boehm

Hundreds of teams and players from across the East Coast are headed to Hammonton, New Jersey this weekend for the Memorial Day 2014 MSSL Explosion tournament, and until this week, they weren’t quite sure whether they’d be greeted with open arms, or locked and guarded gates.

NJ outlineThat’s because a legal battle is swirling around Tuckahoe Turf Farms, a bucolic, 307-acre venue located in southern New Jersey, about halfway between Philadelphia and Atlantic City. The fields hold practices, games and other events mainly related to MSSL and the South Jersey Barons youth club.

However, the local Pineland Commission last month filed a cease-and-desist order against “organized youth soccer activity” on the high-quality grass fields, citing the farm’s zoning and deed restrictions as an agricultural zone, which limits its use to “low-intensity activities,” a term which typically includes hiking, hunting, fishing and other rustic pursuits.

The tournaments bring the area a major economic impact and are generally seen as a boon by local businesses. But the farm apparently gave up the right to host organized events in the 1990s, and the growth of tournament events on the site — which grows top-quality sports turf for major facilities like the Philadelphia Union’s Lincoln Financial Field — has drawn the scrutiny of local administrators and environmentalists.

For weeks it appeared that Tuckahoe Turf Farms would not be available for the Memorial Day tournament. But the Pinelands Commission decided to allow the event to go forward this week, even as the long-term future of the venue remains in contention.

“Commission staff met with representatives from Tuckahoe Turf Farms, MSSL and Barons Soccer May 19 to discuss the use of the Turf Farm for soccer practice and tournaments,” commission spokesman Paul Leakan said on Wednesday, according to the Press of Atlantic City. “The commission agreed to permit a limited number of soccer events to occur while discussions continue concerning permitted use and deed restriction issues.”

[ +READ: Memorial Day Weekend showcase tournament guide ]

Said one source of the situation, “It’s been turned over to counsel and it’s premature to comment.”

Beyond the tournament events, South Jersey Elite Barons Academy use Tuckahoe Turf Farms as their home field. South Jersey Barons didn’t answer a request for interview, but have elsewhere expressed their intention to fight efforts to close down the venue.

Hammonton town officials will visit this weekend’s MSSL event to evaluate its scope, impact and organization.

Meanwhile, the Press of Atlantic City reports that state Senator Jeff Van Drew and Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak have authored legislation allowing soccer events in deed-restricted areas of agricultural zones.

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