Wednesday, November 24, 2010

27.6 acres to be preserved in West Windsor

West Windsor locks in JCC open space deal
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Bridget Clerkin

By Bridget Clerkin

WEST WINDSOR -- Putting an end to two years of deliberation, the West Windsor town council decided unanimously to approve an acquisition of 27.6 acres of open space along Clarksville Road from the Jewish Community Campus of Princeton Mercer Bucks at Monday night's meeting.

As the "yes" votes proceeded down the line of council members, the packed chamber erupted with cheers and applause from the many residents who came to support the $1.38 million purchase.

"We did it!" exclaimed Alison Miller, president of the Friends of West Windsor Open Space organization, which has pledged to contribute $100,000 to the purchase price of the land.

"We feel great, we feel great," Miller said. "This is a vindication of the process and the people and the value of the land. We're so pleased. We've worked so hard."

The land comes from an 81-acre tract earmarked for a Jewish community center that has yet to be completed. The township's acquisition has been seen as vital by environmentally-concerned supporters, as it butts up against Duck Pond Park and a wetlands area that has recently been the site of a nesting ground for great blue herons, which have a very low population level in New Jersey.

Before casting their final votes on the issue, several council members explained to the crowd that the desire to purchase the land was never a question to the council, and that it was the appraisals of the land -- two assessments done by two separate agents chosen from a list of state-certified experts -- which caused them to stall. The assessments were used to negotiate the ultimate price of the purchase.

"We have no opposition to acquiring open space, we just had an issue with the price, but I feel now we have reached a resolve," said George Boreck, one of the council members who had pushed for a third appraisal of the property.

Boreck along with Councilwoman Linda Geevers have been vocal in recent months about their idea to consult a commercial real estate broker for another assessment of the land, in order to get an idea of the price in relation to the current downtrodden real estate market.

The council entertained that idea, allowing Boreck and Geevers to consult the agent, but in the end did not use that information during negotiations with the JCC.

"I had an issue with the appreciation of the price over time," Geevers said. "I feel in the future, we should consult a commercial real estate broker for more advice, for a tool in negotiations, to at least hear what they have to say. But we'll move forward (with this purchase) tonight."

A parade of residents used the public comment time before the decision was made to air their support of the deal, with not one speaking against the transaction at that time.

"This (purchase) would bring to fruition a practice started years ago," said FOWWOS member Andrew Kulley, reminding the council that West Windsor residents had voted several times to fund open space acquisitions by essentially taxing themselves to generate money.

It was a sentiment picked up on by Councilman Charles Morgan.

"We have the tax, we have the money, we should buy the property," he proclaimed before voting "a resounding yes."

Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh, largely the driving force behind the transaction for the past two years, said he was happy with the reaction of the residents who attended the meeting and thanked them, along with the council, for helping the purchase become a reality.

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