WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Township Council took the critical step in approving the purchase of Rock Spring Golf Course on Tuesday with a super-majority vote of 4-1 in support of a bond ordinance on its second and final reading to acquire the property. Despite a no-vote from Councilman Joe Krakoviak, the majority support of this ordinance authorizes the issuance of bonds totaling $12,050,340.
Tuesday night’s meeting at Liberty Middle School saw the governing body and many residents making their final arguments before the final votes were cast. The Rock Spring property totals 138 acres and would give the Township of West Orange control of the land, including the 18-hole course and club facilities.
With the bond ordinance passed, both the township and Rock Spring now have the authority to finalize the deal—allowing for township to begin the actual planning phase of what to do with this sprawling open space situated in the middle of Essex County.
Throughout the last several weeks, those in support of the purchase have expressed a vision of conserving green space and preventing the coveted land from falling in the hands of private developers who might have repurposed the land for residential and commercial purposes.
These potential burdens on a township already struggling with issues such as traffic congestion among other community concerns were what motivated many residents to voice their positions during public comment.
One woman speaking positively of the Rock Spring purchase on Tuesday ultimately captured the overall spirit of those residents who came out in droves to show their support.
“The vote tonight is not only a preventive measure to avoid overdevelopment, but it’s also a first step in preserving open space, which we desperately need,” she said. “I moved to West Orange with a certain quality of life in mind; I would like my town council to protect that. I know there’s a lot of concern negotiating post-purchase, but we have to get there first. Without this vote, we cannot move forward.”
The vast majority of speakers were in favor of the purchase, with only two out of the large swath of residents in attendance speaking against it.
Opposition to the bond ordinance was best articulated by Krakoviak, who voted in favor of the purchase earlier this month, but was hesitant about the bond ordinance. He clarified that this second ordinance that irons out the financial realities of the purchase, including the amount the township needs to borrow in order to finance the purchase, is where his hesitation lies.
His final comments prior to voting against the bond ordinance on Tuesday were laid out as follows:
“If the bond ordinance is approved, town debt will rise to $92 million—a new record. This would mean since year-end 2010, right after Mayor Parisi took office, we’ve added $32 million in debt. That’s 54 percent in less than a decade.
"While the mayor projects $4.8 million from Green Acres grants to pay part of the acquisition, this funding is not guaranteed to either amount or timing…
“In talking to some of the people, particularly the proponents about these issues I found myself saying a few times, I’m sorry I can’t argue with you, you’re making good points. This is a great opportunity to increase open space in the town if it’s executed correctly. But I’m not just looking at what is the potential benefit of 138 acres minus whatever we sell off; I’m also thinking about the costs, the uncertainties and the risk.”
Mayor Robert Parisi, who has pushed hard to seize the opportunity to purchase the property at Rock Spring, also expressed his position before leaving the final vote up to the five members of the council.
“None of us know what the future’s going to hold, but with the council’s consideration, the community 20 years from now is going to be grateful for this action,” said Parisi.
Councilwoman Susan McCartney reiterated that although this final vote from the township council to authorize the purchase was a critical turning point, the planning phase is only just beginning.
“If we vote on this tonight, we all come back in I don’t know how many open public meetings to discuss a plan,” she said. “If you don’t like something, we can discuss something else.”
TAPinto West Orange will continue to cover the purchase of and planning for the property at Rock Spring, which is located at 90 Rock Spring Rd. on the northern border of West Orange and Verona.
For more information about the mayor’s ideas surrounding the fate of the 138 acres, including limited development, senior living options and the prospect of a recreational sports facility, click HERE.
Click HERE to read about the council's unanimous vote to adopt an ordinance on second reading approving the purchase.
The council will return to its regular meeting chambers at 66 Main Street for the next public meeting on April 9.