BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The first step has been in taken in saving the Wemple property in Bridgewater, and maintaining it for open space.
The Bridgewater Township Council unanimously introduced an ordinance Monday to authorize the acquisition of 36 acres of land from Bridgewater Estates, LLC, for the purchase price of $1,925,000.
According to the ordinance, $250,000 will be paid by Somerset County, with another $250,000 to be paid by the Crossroads of the American Revolution. Another $175,000 will be paid by the D&R Greenway Land Trust, while $1,150,000 will come from Bridgewater Township’s Open Space Trust Fund.
There will also be a charitable donation of about 1.319 acres, and the township taking title, subject to roll back taxes in the approximate amount of $100,000.
Residents worked for several weeks to raise money in June, raising $100,000 in a three-week period, and a little over $2 million in a short period of time from Bridgewater homeowners and the different non-profit organizations that are involved in the purchase.
Council vice president Matthew Moench said governments usually talk about partnering with private sector and non-profit entities, but this ordinance represents taking action in a meaningful way, to preserve both quality of life and history in Bridgewater.
“(It’s) truly coming together as a community,” he said.
Moench also said it took patience to go through the process, which included planning board meetings, and thanked local residents for their efforts.
“This will be a true gem for Bridgewater,” he said.
For years, residents part of a group called "Stop 18 Homes" have been fighting to prevent the development of the property, but, in 2012, the Bridgewater planning board approved an application for single family homes on it.
The property was formerly owned by the late John Wemple, who willed the property to his nieces and nephews after his death in 2002, 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 has 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.
Councilman Filipe Pedroso said there was a long history with the property, dating back to his own days on the zoning board.
“It’s in the center of town,” he said. “It’s a large parcel of land, and congratulations to the residents for raising so much money to purchase the property.”
He then cited World War II combat veteran Lt. Col. Bob Vaucher, who was in the audience at the meeting, and Vaucher’s team for getting the word out to the township about saving the property.
“I think the property is worth the town’s investment,” Pedroso said. “It will benefit the town for years to come.”
He called gaining the property a “bargain.”
“It’s just a fantastic acquisition,” Pedroso said. “I’m happy to see it come to fruition.”
Pedroso thanked the Somerset County Freeholders for providing funds, while councilman Howard Norgalis also thanked the freeholders for the $6 million they had provided Bridgewater for Camp Cromwell.
“I’m pleased to be in a position to vote for this,” said Councilman Allen Kurdyla. “It gives us a unique story to tell.”
He said there have been stops and starts in the past, with action taken by a number of parties along the way. Combining the Wemple property with other acquisitions, he said, over 150 acres of open space has been acquired in Bridgewater, a town that is already some 95 percent developed.
“I’m pleased where this is going,” said Kurdyla. “I’m thankful we’re in a position to support and pass it.”
Council president Christine Henderson Rose said she agrees, and called it “an integral piece of property” that dates back to the American Revolution.
“It’s a significant amount of historical importance to the township,” said Rose. “It’s exciting to add this.”
No members of the public spoke out regarding the ordinance before its introduction was unanimously approved to applause from the audience. The public hearing on the measure will be held Aug. 6 at 7:30 p.m.
The next step is for final approval of the ordinance and finalizing a contract for sale.
“The mayor is very excited to add this parcel to our open space inventory,” township administrator James Naples has said.
Once the township, which will take ownership of the property, closes on it, Naples said, they will share details on how the land will be open to neighbors and the community at large.