In 2007 the Township purchased the 2.5 acre Orchard Hill property on Hillside Avenue for open space preservation. The purchase was made with a combination of local funds from the Livingston Open Space Trust (LOSTC) and a matching grant from the New Jersey Green Acres Planning Incentive Grant program. Prior to its purchase, LOSTC had monitored the Orchard Hill property, formerly known as the Byrne residence, with interest because this stretch of land provided a contiguous link between the Senior Community Center at Hillside Avenue and the Board of Education’s administrative offices and Heritage Middle School on Foxcroft Drive.
Originally a farm and orchard dating back to the days of the American Revolution, the property today is a combination of cleared land and woods. The land was of interest to the Open Space Committee primarily because of its size and location. “This really was a win-win situation for the owners who needed to sell the property, and for the Township to add to the outdoor treasures of Livingston,” said Mayor Rudy Fernandez.
Following the purchase of the property, the Open Space Committee conducted extensive research on the old house on the property. The committee consulted with the Byrne family, advertised locally for information about the house, and solicited the advice of preservation experts and the state Historic Preservation office to determine if the house had historical value or met the qualifications for designation for landmark status. After due diligence, it was determined that although certain portions of the house might have some historical value, there had been too many extensive modifications for the building to be considered of historical significance. Other options were also investigated to preserve the house but were ruled out as impractical because of the significant investment that would have been necessary to bring it up to building code requirements and to maintain it.
The house will be demolished by a company to ensure that worthwhile historical components are preserved and reused. For example, the basement beams are over 200 years old and, with proper care, could be donated to a museum or historical society or sold for re-use. “The building has already undergone asbestos remediation and will be demolished this week by a company that will be preserving historical elements,” reported the Mayor.
To oversee the development of the Orchard Hill property, a committee was formed in early 2010 to review the options for the property and to create a vision for its use. Members of the committee are Murray Lieber, Buddy August, Joan Cohen, Anne Fung, Jenny Fung, Bob Hunter, Michael N. Karp, Rev. Leslie E. Martin, Richard Ryan and Arlene A. Johnson
After discussion and exploration of both the house and property, the committee set a goal of preserving the space as a passive recreation area of untouched beauty that includes an undulating border of wooded trees, an old apple tree orchard and majestic, coniferous trees. Applications for permits to develop trails through the adjacent wooded area which include wetlands are planned for the future so that a connecting path can be created to link the Senior Community Center and school buildings. This would allow access for students between the Township properties and opportunities for educational programs to study the habitat and wildlife. In the short term, plans are to work with the school system to develop that an outdoor classroom and field trip site that focuses on the history of the property as a colonial farm and orchard.
“We hope to make this a place of peace for residents so that they can enjoy the natural beauty of the land,” said Murray Lieber, LOSTC Committee Co-Chairperson and Chair of the Orchard Hill Development Committee. “The Prospect Park Development took 7 years to complete. Orchard Hill will also be a work in progress but of immense value to the community.”
For more information about LOSTC, and the Outdoor Spaces and Trails in Livingston, please visit the township website at www.livingstonnj.org. Click “Boards/Committees” and scroll down to Livingston Open Space Trust Committee.