WEST ORANGE, NJ — Mayor Robert Parisi held a community meeting at the Rock Spring Country Club on Feb. 27 to answer questions about an ordinance for the township to potentially purchase the property, which passed on first reading at the Feb. 19 West Orange Township Council meeting. Parisi described the financial impact the purchase would have on the town and the administration’s proposed plan, then answered questions.
“We believe golf is vital,” Parisi said. “Clubs are struggling, but it’s not golf. It’s the cost of joining a club. For a club like this to go public, we think it will be successful.”
Parisi said that if the council votes to buy the property, the administration is considering redesigning the course to be nine holes instead of 18, leaving some of the 138-acre property as open parkland and walking paths.
“Unless you play golf, you wouldn’t get to enjoy the property,” he said. “I think a nine-hole course could be attractive. It’s not unheard of and it gives us land do some other things with for the benefit of the community. It frees up space for walking paths and parkland.”
Parisi also discussed some other possibilities for the site, clarifying that when the council votes, it will only be voting on the purchase of the land. The council will not approve a plan for the property until a later date.
One part of the plan that the administration has considered is setting aside 15 to 18 acres to develop into an adult golfing community that the township could then sell to recoup some of the costs of buying the property. It would be located along the Northfield Avenue side of the property, accessible from Ridgeway Avenue, where there is already a traffic light.
Parisi also discussed the possibility of moving the Department of Public Works to the Rock Spring site, because the current facility is in need of relocation. The new DPW site can be smaller, he said, about 2 acres as opposed to the current 6 acres. If the facility were to move to Rock Spring, there would not be a salt shed or large garage and it would not take up more space than the garage already on the property.
Parisi then discussed how the town would finance the project, should its purchase be approved by the council. The purchase price, which was negotiated with the Montclair Golf Club, which owns Rock Spring, is $11,283,000, and the administration is asking for a bond of $12,050,340. A Green Acres application, if awarded, will fund half the project.
“We would get 50 percent funding to protect this land forever,” Parisi said. “It’s very likely that this property would receive funding because there’s not a lot of land in Essex County. Once Green Acres funds it, it’s protected forever. No other mayor or council could develop it.”
The Green Acres application has not yet been submitted because it will not be considered until the township settles on how much land will be preserved. If 15 to 18 acres is developed, that land will not be protected by Green Acres. It is too late to make the March 30 deadline, so Parisi said Rock Spring will be considered in the next round of applications.
“We have all of these different priorities,” Parisi said, explaining that some people would consider open space the top priority, while others would prioritize housing or revenue. “None of them are necessarily wrong, they just conflict with each other. So we think the town should buy it, because we can meet a little bit of all of them by buying this property.”
Several residents at the meeting had concerns about traffic, particularly on Rock Spring Road. The street, where the golf course’s clubhouse is located, does not have sidewalks.
“I admit there will be an adjustment period,” Parisi said, adding that most traffic would be directed to Northfield and Ridgeway avenues, where there are traffic lights and signs. “But the only traffic will be from golf. There won’t be traffic from the social aspects, like the pool and people coming and going for dinner.”
Parisi also addressed the pool, saying that because the township already funds the Ginny Duenkel Pool, it is not interested in maintaining the pool at Rock Spring, so it remains to be seen what will be done with it at this point.
The golf equipment is included in the sale, as is the clubhouse and other facilities. Parisi said that the house will be used for operations and community space, and potentially rented out to bring in money. He also said a more concrete plan will be formed if the purchase is approved by the council.
David Cronheim, a lawyer who serves as general counsel to the Twin Brooks Country Club in Watchung, has been acting as a consultant to the administration and sharing insight about the golf course itself. Cronheim said at the meeting that the course was designed by golf course architect Seth Raynor, and finished after his death in 1926 by Charles Banks. Several questions were raised about potentially taking the course from 18 holes to nine, asking if the change would degrade what is known as “a gem” of a course.
“The first nine were designed before the death of the architect,” Cronheim said. “The second nine were done by his protege. So if you want to preserve the better nine, there’s an opportunity for it to be just as good of a course. It’s a gem, but it could still be better.”
Parisi said that, while there is risk that comes along with the township buying Rock Spring, 138 acres of open space would be saved regardless of whether all goes as planned.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance and if we don’t take it we’ll regret it in the years to come,” he said. “We could very simply say no, but it would be developed with hundreds of units. Although it’s a complex issue, it’s a simple solution. If we vote no as a community, it’s lost forever.”