Jul 28, 2014
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What would you do with 6.3 acres of open space?

The Open Space Commission debates what to do with the township owned property known as 'The Rock.'

 

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While open space is usually hard to come by, the township has lately had the opposite problem: deciding what to do with it.

For the second time in a month, the topic of how best to maximize the township’s open space has come up. On Monday, the Open Space Commission met to bounce around ideas about what to do with a 6.3 acres of land at the top of Mt. Pleasant Avenue known as “The Rock.”

While many ideas were discussed and debated at the meeting, everyone on the commission seemed to agree about three fundamental things:

  • The property should be open to the public;
  • Whatever is build should have a minimal impact on the surrounding environment; and
  • The schools should be involved in someway. 

“We are open to anything,” said Chairman of the OSC Joseph McCartney.

Some of the ideas suggested at the meeting included: planting an orchard; planting a community garden; planting a tree nursery; making it a recreation area; allowing the land to be regrown naturally; having simply an open field; using it as out-door classrooms for the schools; and putting in walking paths. 

However, the commission realized that every suggestion had to be measured by three limitations: 

  • There is little room for parking; 
  • The land is located at a dangerous curve at the top of Mt. Pleasant, causing ingress and egress problems; and
  • The wildlife in the area. 

“We had a lot of ideas when we started this,” said Bill Sullivan at the meeting, “but once you reach the conclusion that whatever it is can’t be used in which there are more than five or 10 cars maximum at one time, that really narrows down the potential uses of the property.” 

Leigh Ann Zaolino, a resident whose own property is adjacent to “The Rock,” came prepared to the meeting with pictures of the area and advice for the commission. 

She informed the commission that whatever was to be done with the property, it needed to be “low-impact" in order to preserve the the turkeys, hawks, and other wildlife occupying the land  

And Zaolino brought up a problem that the commission had not thought of: a garden would be like giving the wildlife in the area a free ticket to an all you can eat buffet. 

“If you put a garden there,” said Zaolino, “you will have to find a way to keep the deer, the fox, the rabbit, the turkeys, and everything else that is in there [out]. You might as well just open it up and call it Whole Foods for the turkeys and everything else. 

“You are going to just bring more wildlife and strange wildlife to the area, and piss off the gardeners because they are going to be taking their stuff.”

Of all the wildlife in the area, Township Forester John Linson said that deer will be the biggest problem.

“I feel that the deer are the only real impediment,” said Linson, because they over graze and destroy the understory vegetation, leaving nothing for any other native species to adequately survive. Fencing, he suggested, would be one potential way to prevent deer from destroying the habitat. 

“It’s a very sensitive site,” said Linson. “We want to reestablish vegetation. The only way we are going to reestablish vegetation is to exclude deer, and ... turkeys and rabbits and squirrels and hawks.” 

The property at 577 Mt. Pleasant Ave., across from the Environmental Center, was purchased by the township in August 2011 in an effort to curb development on the site. The property has sat vacant for years as many proposals to build something there have come and gone. 

However, there was infrastructure construction done to the property in anticipation of some of the projects, such as an assisted living home, so as a result nearly all utilities and proper runoff pipes have been installed. 

There is still a dilapidated home on the property, but the township is now seeking bids to have it taken down, said Assistant Director of Public Works Nick Salese, who was at the meeting on Monday. 

In addition, Linson added that whatever the township decides to do, one of the biggest problems is the fact that the property is practically barren. 

“Basically it is like a strip-mine site; all of the valuable soil has been removed,” said Linson. 

The Public Works Department will soon be adding about 2,000 cubic yards of soil to the site, but more will be necessary to fully cover “The Rock.” The goal, said Salese, is to add about 12 to 16 inches of dirt to the site, and then another 4 inches of top soil. 

The commission tentatively scheduled a public meeting on October 15 to hear suggestions from the public on what to do with the site. A location and a meeting time have yet to be announced.

The OSC will then make its recommendation to the township council about what to do with the site. The township council will ultimately have the final vote on what will be done with “The Rock.” 

 

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