BRIDGEWATER, NJ - A lot of moving parts – and money – was required for both public and private entities to help secure the historic Wemple property, a move that was formalized by the Bridgewater Township Council in early August.
The total purchase price was $1,195,000.
Spearheading the acquisition effort was Bridgewater resident Robert Vaucher, a World War II veteran and friend of the late John Wemple, the former property owner who had wanted his land saved from development.
The property was formerly owned by the late Wemple, who willed the property to his nieces and nephews after his death, and maintained to his neighbors that he never wanted to see the land developed. Wemple made that stipulation part of his will, but it was overturned by the Superior Court of New Jersey in 2005.
The family then sold the property to Lang, who brought the application to the planning board regarding the building of homes.
In recent months, Lang had promised that if the residents could raise $1.9 million, he would turn the land over to the township for open space, instead of being developed.
Linda J. Mead, president and CEO of the Princeton-based D&R Greenway Land Trust, said that Vaucher and neighbor Brendan Burns both contacted her firm, and asked if D&R Greenway would help preserve the land.
“The developer was someone I had worked with in the past,” said Mead. “It was a good opportunity to reach out and preserve this land, and we did.”
The purchase includes $1,150,000 provided by the Bridgewater Township Open Space Trust Fund. A total of $250,000 is being funded by the County of Somerset, along with $250,000 from the Crossroads of the American Revolution and $175,000 by D&R Greenway.
Mead explained that her organization is called in to shepherd projects, to bring partners together and also get everyone on the same page.
“We worked with the neighbors, town, county, Crossroads and our own resources,” she said. “We coordinated with the (state’s) Green Acres program to ensure that funding needs were met, and negotiated with the property owner to achieve a bargain sale.”
Mead added that D&R Greenway had been involved with the Wemple property for the better part of three years. Some of it involved meetings in Princeton, while other parts included phone calls and even waiting periods in-between.
She said Bridgewater Township was involved with another project last year, but that negotiations regarding the Wemple property picked up in February and March this year.
“It moved quickly,” she said, “(with) significant fundraising, and neighbors and others with interest in the property.”
With the purchase having been approved unanimously by Bridgewater’s governing body, Mead said that D&R Greenway would continue to shepherd mechanics of the project to meet state and county requirements so that funds may be released. She also said D&R is committing funds for the first time through its Revolving Land Fund, which is being used for the Wemple project so properties like it are not lost to development.
Laura Szwak, who serves on the board of the Trenton-based Crossroads of the American Revolution, said the Wemple property came to her organization’s attention about three years ago, after neighbors wrote to former Gov. Chris Christie.
“It filtered down to Green Acres, and they called us,” she said of the state-run agency.
Szwak explained that Green Acres allocates for grant money, which Crossroads applied for to acquire land in its region. She added that the region, the Crossroads of the American Revolution National Heritage Area, involves 88 municipalities, including Bridgewater, and she reiterated that Crossroads had an allocation to buy the Wemple land.
“They contacted us, if we were interested, and that’s how we first got involved,” said Szwak. “We don’t buy or hold land ourselves. We need a partner – and our partner is the township.”
She said Crossroads will give funds to the township to acquire the land, which according to the ordinance was $250,000.
As for the future, Szwak said Crossroads will continue to be involved with the Wemple property. She also said her organization will put up a sign when the property is actually acquired, one that will explain the historical importance of the land with regard to the American Revolution, while the town itself will manage the property.