Township unveils plans to purchase Rock Spring

Mayor Robert Parisi announces plan to purchase Rock Spring.

WEST ORANGE, NJ — Mayor Robert Parisi announced at the Feb. 5 Township Council meeting that the administration will present the council with a contract to purchase the Rock Spring Country Club, which the Montclair Golf Club announced it would sell approximately two months ago. The property, bought by the Montclair Golf Club in 2016, consists of approximately 138 acres located on Northfield Avenue near Walker and Rock Spring roads.

Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. had announced Jan. 28 in a Facebook post that the county had made an offer to purchase the club and preserve it as open space. At the meeting, Parisi said that the township had been in contact with the county about the property and that the county’s offer did not work out. Parisi said that if West Orange goes through with the purchase, the club will be maintained as a public course and open space.

“The administration’s plan is to purchase the property but have it maintained and operated as a public golf course for the next two years while we evaluate what the long-term plans might be,” the mayor said at the meeting. “We think this is a huge opportunity with tremendous possibilities for the town. The alternative is to have it go to the free market and have developers drooling to buy it and be stuck with losing the public land for what would most likely be a densely populated residential development, which we don’t think is in the best interest of the community.”

According to a press release from the township on Feb. 7, the council will consider a bond issue with a contract to buy the property. Under the contract the township would purchase the property for $11.28 million, which is less than its assessed value of $15 million.

“Closing would occur between April 30 and June 30 if Town Council approves the transaction, and the Township will be entitled to a credit of $3,000 for every day prior to June 30 that closing occurs, which could reduce the purchase price to $11.1 million,” the release said.

A presentation will be made at the Feb. 19 council meeting about the sale and Parisi said that if the council approves the contract on first reading, a public meeting will be scheduled to discuss it with residents. At the Feb. 5 meeting, the council approved four resolutions to expedite the process. One covered the hiring of an appraisal company, another hired a real estate attorney, the third hired an environmental consultant and the final resolution was a bond issue. All four resolutions were approved unanimously.

“We don’t do real estate transactions,” Richard Trenk, the township attorney, said at the meeting to clarify why his firm would not represent the town in the buying process. “In this case, because of the amount of work that needs to be done within this tight time frame, I recommended to the mayor and the administration to hire somebody who will fixate on the contract and is purely real estate counsel.”

As of that meeting, the law firm had not been hired. Trenk said the township would hire one within a day or two.

In the press release, Parisi said the town will eventually consider whether the course will continue to have 18 holes or be reduced to nine.

“The recent trend toward fewer holes takes into account busy professionals and others who love golf but don’t necessarily have the time or resources to spend approximately four hours on a course,” Parisi said in the release. “More importantly, by reducing the footprint of the golf course, there may be other recreational needs which can be accommodated, including a recreational center, walking and jogging paths, and exercise stations, which are prevalent at many areas throughout the country.”

At the meeting, Parisi said the township understands there will be a tax impact on residents as a result of the purchase of the club, but the opportunity was not something thought to be possible even a few years ago.

“This was a very unique situation and we think the possibilities are too great to ignore,” he said. “There’s been a lot of talk about the county. The county was great, the county executive was cooperative and helpful, and we’ve met with him several times to discuss the issue. In the end it just wasn’t something that was going to work out between the county and the club. That was an opportunity for us, and I think it’s an opportunity for all of us to do something pretty special on 140 acres of land that could help to define the community for a long time.”

Photo by Amanda Valentovic