N.J. town wants to preserve and redevelop its historic Big Bang antenna - nj.com

2022-12-08 12:10:36 By : Ms. Helen Yu

Robert Wilson, who with his partner Arno Penzias at Bell Labs, discovered evidence of the Big Bang Theory in 1963 using the "Horn Antenna" which is still on the Holmdel campus.John Munson/The Star-Ledger

An historic antenna that helped confirm the Big Bang Theory and the site in that Holmdel where it is located could become an area preserved and redeveloped by the town.

At its Nov. 22 meeting, the Holmdel Township Committee approved a resolution which authorized the town planning board to investigate whether the property at 791 Holmdel Road may be designated an area in need of redevelopment for non-condemnation purposes under New Jersey’s Local Redevelopment and Housing Law (LRHL), according to a release from the town.

This property contains the decommissioned radio telescope known as the Holmdel Horn Antenna, a U.S. National Historic Landmark, among other structures.

Planted atop a hill behind the former Bell Labs research facility, the horn antenna was built in 1959 to help carry out communications tests with Echo, a giant plastic balloon launched into low earth orbit by NASA in August 1960. Project Echo was an experiment in triangulation and the balloon was meant to act as a reflector for sending radio signals between two distant points on the globe.

In 1965, Drs. Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias utilized the horn antenna in their research, which led to the discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation, the town said. This discovery by Wilson and Penzias provided the evidence to confirm the Big Bang Theory and earned the duo the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1978.

The antenna was designated as a National Historic Landmark by the Department of the Interior in 1988, officials said.

Now, due to “significant interest” among Holmdel residents in preserving the horn antenna as well as maintaining a public right-of-access to the landmark, the town is looking into the new area in need of redevelopment designation for the site, according to the release.

The designation would provide the town with numerous powers that could help it preserve the antenna such as giving it the ability to directly negotiate with a developer to acquire property, officials said. The property at 791 Holmdel Road is owned by a private developer and does not belong to the town.

The property was sold last year by Nokia to a local technology executive, Rakesh Antala, for $3.6 million, according to a report by Patch. Antala could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday night.

Holmdel Township Planner Kate Keller said the committee’s authorization of a redevelopment investigation does not change the applicable zoning and only begins a comprehensive, multi-step process that will likely take place over several months. Throughout that process, there will be multiple public meetings and members of the public will have the opportunity to voice their opinions and ask questions of the professionals involved.

Holmdel Township Mayor Greg Buontempo said the project is a priority for the committee.

“While the former Nokia property is now owned by a private developer, the maintenance and preservation of the historic Holmdel Horn-Reflector Antenna remains an important goal for this Township Committee,” the mayor said. “We look forward to continuing to work with the property’s owners on developing a plan that takes into account the National Historic Landmark that exists within our community.”

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Chris Sheldon may be reached at csheldon@njadvancemedia.com.

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