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PEQUANNOCK - The MetroStars soccer franchise has abandoned its effort to establish a training facility in Pequannock - and the New York Jets could wind up taking its place.

"We have other things better than the MetroStars on the table," said Mounir Badaan, the developer of the site off Route 23. "A much better and stronger team. It's like having bottled beer -or bottled champagne."

MetroStars officials said delays in obtaining state and local approvals in Pequannock ultimately scuttled their plan.

"Our decision had to do with the time that it took for decisions to be made," general manager Alexi Lalas said.

But while Jets Vice President Matthew Higgins confirmed the National Football League team's interest in the site, he said it may be too early for Badaan to pop the cork.

"We're doing our due diligence, looking at several specific sites that meet our criteria, and we hope to formally narrow down the list within the next few weeks," said Higgins, who has toured at least 20 prospective 20-acre practice sites since early October.

Pequannock is, indeed, a strong contender among the Jets suitors, but the list spans towns from Montvale to Perth Amboy and includes sites in Franklin Lakes, Wayne, Secaucus, Bayonne and Cedar Grove. The former Curtiss-Wright site in Wood-Ridge also is a leading candidate, but legal issues may keep the Jets from landing in the Ridgefield Park section of Overpeck Park.

"It's been gratifying to see so many places that are so eager to see us go there," Higgins said.

The Pequannock site, first approved by the township in 2004, was to include practice fields for the MetroStars with 60-foot-high light poles, offices, restaurants and a hotel on 42 acres at Alexander Avenue and Route 23.

The team is "actively exploring several options" for other training facilities in New Jersey, Lalas said, but he would not say where.

As a part of the developer's agreement with the township, Badaan agreed to build a sanitary sewer system for the complex and about 40 homes along Greenwood Avenue, surrounding the site.

Residents opposed the complex, saying it would increase flooding, noise and traffic, and that the practice field lighting would harm their quality of life.

Badaan said he was angry with the Major League Soccer team -but not defeated.

"We're going after the MetroStars legally, because they misled us for the last three years," he said, adding that his company had spent more than $1.5 million on the project.

That company, Totowa-based ABN Realty, notified Pequannock in a letter dated Nov. 8 that the MetroStars deal had fallen through.

"They made it very clear, no matter what happens, they will develop the property and they will install the sanitary sewer system," Township Manager Kevin Boyle said.

Badaan said construction on the sewer system will start next week.

Chief Financial Officer David Hollberg said the township will not lose any money from the MetroStars' departure.

Higgins said the Jets would prefer to be within 20 miles of its new stadium, which is planned for the Meadowlands, and of Newark Airport. The latter condition all but eliminates many potential Bergen, Passaic and Morris sites.

The Ridgefield Park section of Overpeck Park was touted by two state officials shortly after the Jets agreed in late September to move their offices to New Jersey from Long Island.

But Ridgefield Park Mayor George Fosdick said that site was not an option.

"Nothing against the Jets, but there is a court order that makes it very clear what can and can't be done with that land," Fosdick said. "Basically, it has to be used as a public park."

Higgins said the Jets have an ambitious timetable.

"We'd like to acquire the land by the end of the year and move in by mid-2007," he said. "Obviously that can't happen if there's a lot of controversy surrounding a site."

The New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority will buy the land for the Jets as part of an agreement under which the Jets gave up any efforts to return to Queens.

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