WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Township Council took an informal vote at its Oct. 7 meeting to ask the township administration to look into purchasing 12 acres of open space on Mt. Pleasant Avenue, moving forward the process to potentially own the land. The vote, which passed 4-1, allows Mayor Robert Parisi and the administration to learn how the town could purchase the property, after a Sept. 11 recommendation from the Open Space and Recreation Commission that the town should acquire it. Members of the public are largely in favor of the potential purchase, asking the council to consider spending open space funds at the meeting. Councilwoman Susan McCartney cast the opposing vote.
“While there is a steep slope, the appraisal says the remaining property can be used for four 2-acre lots,” Brent Scott, a member of the Open Space and Recreation Commission, said at the meeting. “That could mean we lose 500 trees. This is an excellent piece of property to purchase. This property is important to the township for our quality of life, and I encourage the council to purchase the property.”
Among other reasons for buying the land, such as preventing accidents along winding Mt. Pleasant Avenue below the forest and preventing further development, resident Joyce Rudin said climate change should be a factor in the council’s decision as to whether to buy the property.
“We are in extreme climate danger,” she said. “The way to stop this is to stop it locally. We can do something on a local level and build on that. We already know the Open Space Commission has voted to go forward. We know that residents have always voted in favor of funding for open space. There are a lot of conservation benefits to saving this land. If the land falls into the hands of a developer, the trees are taken down, and then we find out that the land is not good for development, then West Orange is left with a mess.”
Resident Cia Pak lives right across the street from the wooded area. He also asked the council to buy the property.
“That forest means everything for us on Mt. Pleasant Avenue,” he said at the meeting. “I beg you guys, since you have the power, to buy it so we can enjoy the land.”
One concern the council discussed is the private road that leads to the forest, which would affect who can access the property if the township buys it. Assistant township attorney Ken Kayser said maintenance costs and access would have to be determined, as well as if residents would be able to access public land through a private road.
Councilwoman Cindy Matute-Brown asked West Orange forester John Linson about the condition of the property, since he had visited it recently. He said at the meeting that he thinks a town purchase of the forest would be beneficial.
“I was pleasantly surprised when I walked the property,” Linson said at the meeting. “There’s two spectacular white oaks that are probably 200 years old. Most of the other trees are about 100 years old by my estimation. The property has a lot of potential to be used, since it’s so level at the top. On this particular property, I feel that the maintenance lends itself, because the township could do a lot of it in-house instead of bringing in contractors.”
Councilman Joe Krakoviak, the council liaison to the Open Space and Recreation Commission, said he is in favor of buying the property and possibly bonding for it. Councilwoman Susan McCartney voted against learning more because she said she does not believe the land is in immediate danger of being developed, so it is not one of her priorities.
“We are in a climate crisis, and we all have to do as much as we can to preserve as much land as we can,” Matute-Brown said. “I am still very much in favor of doing what we can to acquire this. If a developer were to come in and purchase it, you’re talking about acres and acres of clearing.”
Photo by Amanda Valentovic