LIVINGSTON, NJ — Sixteen years after the Township of Livingston voted in favor of forming an Open Space Trust Fund for the purpose of preserving land and avoiding overdevelopment in Livingston, the township had a monumental year for open space in 2019, approving the purchase of more than 20 acres of land between two properties in the last two months.

The Livingston Township Council has recently voted in favor of purchasing both the Licari property at 240 East Northfield Road and the Strahman property at 321 East Cedar Street, which have been two of the top properties on the Livingston Open Space Trust Committee’s acquisition “wish list” since the committee was formed in 2003.

Mayor Al Anthony, who doubles as the council liaison to the committee, welcomed several members of the committee to Wednesday’s township council meeting, where the council approved the Licari purchase. Stating that the Licari family has “spent a lifetime meticulously creating and caring for this wonderful property,” Committee chair Art Altman thanked his fellow committee members for their patience in waiting for the property to become available and for their hard work in leading the negotiations and finalizing both of these purchases.

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“In the book ‘200 Years: A Bicentennial Portrait of Livingston Township,’ there is a picture that shows rolling hills and green pastures surrounded by white picket fences, […] stables and horses,” said Altman. “It is somewhat difficult to imagine that this beautiful horse farm is actually located on Northfield Road; and it obviously provides a dimension to the community that differs from most other properties…

“We’ve been waiting many years for this property. It was a long journey; but future generations of Livingston residents will now be able to enjoy the fields and rolling hills, and it is our hope and wish that this slice of paradise stays open space forever for all to cherish.”

Anthony also acknowledged former mayor Stephen Santola, who spearheaded the efforts to include an open space levy on the election ballot in 2003 and the forming of the open space committee.

“The county had [an open space levy] and other towns were passing them, so we came up with a referendum, and it passed by a healthy margin,” said Santola. “We had to form an Open Space Committee to decide what to spend the money on, and part of their work was to locate the open space within the town and then rank the sites based on size, visibility, environmental sensitivity and so on.”

Santola, who was also behind the last significant open space purchase of the property now known as the Saint Barnabas Medical Center Community Field, added that funds can be used to either acquire or improve open spaces, such as Littell’s Pond.

“Included on that original list were both the Licari horse farm and the Strahman site, which have been targets since 2003,” he said. “The committee and the township has done a great job of staying in touch with them over the years so that when the property owners were ready to sell, they entertained an offer from the town.

“The properties happened to become available in the same year, so it’s been an impressive job by the members of the open space committee and the town council for the past 16 years to stay in touch with the property owners and to put the township in the position to be able to acquire the land when it became available.”

Although a significant portion of the funds available for open space will need to be spent on these two properties, Santola explained the balance in the account will continue to grow for years to come due to the annual tax levy. He expressed pride in the committee for having the foresight to save enough of the accumulated funds to be able to purchase these two properties at the appropriate time.

“I think there was a recognition that a lot of established towns like Livingston were very close to being fully developed, and I think that if the town planners back in the 1940s and 50s had to do it over again, they would probably have preserved more fields and parks,” he said. “There’s been this huge demand for outdoor, public space for parks and playing fields that needs to be met, and I think one of the goals from the beginning was to preserve as much of the town’s existing open space as we could.”

Santola also acknowledged two of the original committee members, Renee Resky and Paula McGovern, whom he called “The Queens of Open Space,” for being instrumental in campaigning for the referendum and recruiting people to join in the effort.   

“It’s heartwarming after all these years of effort to see the plan coming to fruition and that the committee stayed in touch with both of the property owners to express their interest and that the council followed up on them, too,” said Resky. “These are two of the largest undeveloped properties in the township, and that’s why they were such a high priority environmentally and aesthetically for the views. It was just a matter of having the right timing, money available for them, willing sellers and the township’s backing, which we’re lucky to have with our council.”

As the township moves forward with the purchase, a committee is currently being formed to decide what the future of these properties will look like.

“I think the most [open space] we’ve ever [purchased] in a year was two acres, and this a little over 20 acres in a town that’s very desirable,” said Mayor Anthony. “A few of us up here are a little development-weary and want more open spaces in town. And I think we’re doing our job, but our volunteers are doing an awesome job as well, so thank you for all your hard work.”

More information on these properties will be shared as it becomes available.

Disclaimer: The author shares a relation with the former mayor quoted in this article. Any opinions expressed remain the speaker's alone and do not reflect the opinions of the author or of TAPinto.net.