West Orange Township Council approves bond to purchase 94 acres of open space

The West Orange Township Council approves a bond ordinance to buy 94 acres of open space from the Crestmont Country Club at its Sept. 28 meeting.

WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Township Council unanimously approved a bond ordinance to buy 94 acres of open space from the Crestmont Country Club at its Sept. 28 meeting, preserving land that otherwise might have been developed. The bond is $4,476,000; the balance will be paid out of the town’s Open Space and Recreation Trust Fund in the amount of $4,700,000. Essex County’s Open Space Trust Fund contributed $750,000. There will be a down payment of $224,000. The land will be used for passive recreation.

“This was a heavy ask in addition to everything else that we’re doing but obviously very important,” Council President Cindy Matute-Brown said at the meeting. “Ninety-four acres of open space is commendable. I want to thank everyone for all of your efforts in making sure that we got here.”

No residents spoke during the public hearing on the bond ordinance, but last year residents spoke out in opposition of the country club’s plan to sell the land to a developer to build housing units. Flooding caused by removing trees, increased traffic and environmental impact on the area were all raised by residents as causes for concern last year.

“There is volcanic rock back there. It would damage the foundations of our homes and there would be flooding,” Sharon Yedwab, who lives in the same neighborhood as the property, said at a council meeting on Oct. 6, 2020, in opposition to building on the land. “This is really unthinkable.”

Also at the October 2020 meeting, Edgemont Road resident Stephen Ferry said he was concerned about the traffic that building on the land would cause on neighboring streets, which would back up surrounding roads.

“It turns Sunnyside Street into a highway,” Ferry said at the time. “That road has no cross streets and it’s on a slope. It’s a ski slope, essentially. Turning that into a thoroughfare that goes through to Edgemont is going to be very unsafe. There are kids that play on that street, and it’s an area of concern. I don’t think the property is actually conducive to home building.”

Backlash to the potential development caused the town to buy the property. At the May 5 Open Space Committee meeting, Councilman Bill Rutherford reported that three appraisals had been done on the property and that the township and country club had agreed on purchase terms. The bond ordinance passed on first reading at the Sept. 14 council meeting.

“To the residents who advocated, your organizing was grand,” Matute-Brown said.

Councilwoman Michelle Casalino acknowledged Crestmont for being willing to sell to the town rather than building on the land.

“I’m glad they were able to work with the township on this transaction, and I think it’s a great partnership with one of our old-time organizations here,” she said. “To be able to preserve this property and to continue the club’s legacy is really a great win for our community, so thank you to everyone involved.”

As the liaison to the Open Space and Recreation Committee, Rutherford was heavily involved in making sure the purchase was a possibility. He said the transaction “speaks to the heart of West Orange.”

“We are a green community,” Rutherford said at the meeting. “These hills are gorgeous, and this just preserves a huge parcel of it, so I’m excited for the transaction. This is a win for West Orange, and I’m grateful for everyone who had a hand in it.”