WEST ORANGE, NJ — Members of the West Orange Township Council voted unanimously in favor of approving the purchase of property at Rock Spring Golf Course on first reading during Tuesday's council meeting. A second bond ordinance to provide funding was approved by a vote of 4-1.
A second and final reading will be held on March 5 for the ordinance to acquire the property in the amount of approximately $11.2 million, and the final reading on the second ordinance will be held on March 19.
During Tuesday's council meeting, Councilman Joe Krakoviak voted in opposition to the second ordinance, with Councilwoman Cindy Matute-Brown initially expressing some reservations as well prior to voting in its favor.
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“I join with everybody here and agree this is a great opportunity to increase recreation and open space in the township; but the devil is in the details,” said Krakoviak, who expressed concerns regarding the speed in which the transaction is taking place and how that might impact the evaluation the purchase.
Krakoviak added that Green Acres aid is not guaranteed and said he was concerned about other potential financial strains as well, including further incurred debt.
In response to his comments, fellow council member Michelle Casalino expressed her rationale for voting in favor of the purchase, stating that the township continues to pay down debt. She reminded those present at the meeting that the cost of the acquisition would not appear on this year’s municipal budget, clarifying previous claims that the cost could impact what is shaping up to be a challenging 2019 budget.
Although she respected all of Krakoviak’s comments, Casalino said that “losing control of that site is going to be detrimental to this community.”
The governing body noted that Tuesday’s vote is solely for the purchase of the property and does not come with any plans or binding obligations as to how the land will be developed and utilized. However, Mayor Robert Parisi described what he and the administration would like to see come out of this project.
The mayor’s plan and overall vision was outlined in a Power Point presentation that emphasized limited development, with a senior residence (adults 55 year and older) to complement a public nine-hole golf course, a potential recreational center hosting local sports and the relocation of a public works facility on a small parcel of the land. More details on his intentions for the property can be found HERE.
The purchase of the approximately 138-acre property was motivated by the township’s desire to avoid the property falling into the hands of private developers—which Parisi said could potentially lead to residential over-development—as well as to preserve open space and promote community well-being through recreation.
Green Acres aid was also cited as a way to offset costs and protect the land from future development if the application is approved, but the aid is not guaranteed, according to Parisi.
At the council’s Feb. 5 meeting, council members explained that additional costs would cover the hiring of an appraisal company, an environmental consultant, a bond issue and a special real estate attorney in order to guide the administration as the township pursues the purchase.
During public comment preceding the council’s vote on Tuesday, support for the project was significant, with a vocal majority supporting the argument that the land is better off kept out of the hands of private developers with the intent of eliminating open space in favor of crowded residential development.
Plans for the Rock Spring project will begin to take shape when the mayor and council host a public forum scheduled for Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. on site at Rock Spring Golf Club. The governing body and other professionals involved in the project will field questions and suggestions from the public during this time.