Parisi discusses possible redevelopment project at Rock Spring in West Orange

Rock Spring Golf Club

WEST ORANGE, NJ — Mayor Robert Parisi began discussions about subdividing a portion of the Rock Spring Golf Club and setting it aside for development with the West Orange Township Council at a workshop meeting on April 5, presenting preliminary plans for a complex with housing and a parking garage. The town bought the 138-acre golf course in 2019 for $11,283,000, and Parisi said at the time that there would be a possibility of some development on the portion of the land that isn’t protected by the Green Acres Program.

“Buying Rock Spring was a bold move,” Parisi said at the meeting. “It was the largest single bond in most of our years of experience in government, and it was one of the few towns that have ever bought a private club to keep as a golf course. It was a bold move and something that the township should be proud of, but we have to figure out what the next step is. Now that we bought the club and have a couple years of experience in operating it as a golf course, we have to figure out what the township is going to do for the next 20 or 30 years.”

He mentioned the discussions surrounding the possibility of turning the 18-hole course into a nine-hole course two years ago; the popularity of the course in the meantime has risen so that all 18 holes will remain.

“We’re now on a lot less footprint because we’re keeping 18 holes, so now any development at all is going to require a parking deck,” Parisi said. “We don’t have enough land to do surface parking. In the original discussion we had, we envisioned developing a little piece fronting Northfield Avenue on 11 or 12 acres. That gets eliminated when you keep 18 holes.”

The town is partnering with AvalonBay Communities, a development company based in Virginia that has built and operated projects all over New Jersey, including in nearby Bloomfield, Maplewood and Roseland. The company would buy 6 acres from the town for roughly $2 million to build apartments, not exceeding 300 units. Of the apartments, 15 percent would be affordable housing.

The developer would fund the installation of a traffic light and new intersection, an access roadway, and the construction of the parking deck. The township will not provide funding assistance, and the mechanism used will be to designate the land an “area in need of rehabilitation.” That designation is a zoning overlay and prohibits tax abatements.

The plan also includes a new clubhouse on the golf course property, which would be the township’s responsibility. The current clubhouse would be moved to a new location.

“The truth is, if you’ve been to the clubhouse, it’s quaint in a historic sense, but it needs a lot of work and it needs a lot of money,” Parisi said. “We should look at a new clubhouse as being $4.8 million to $5 million. If we were to not do anything, whether it’s now or in the short term, the existing clubhouse would need a lot of renovation that would be close to $1.5 million or $2 million anyway, to be put in a position where we can have outings and make it a revenue source.”

The clubhouse project would take up most of the space where the 18th hole currently sits on the golf course and would eliminate access to the property from Rock Spring Road. The new clubhouse would be where the tennis courts currently are, and the holes would be renumbered. The 18th hole would move to where the driving range is now. According to Parisi, the driving range is not currently in use.

“Some of the holes would be renumbered, and that’s not necessarily a product of this plan. We believe we’re going to renumber the holes anyway,” Parisi said. “It makes a better flow of play and accommodates the person interested in only playing nine holes.”

Following the presentation, in a public comment session that lasted several hours, many residents expressed concerns about moving the clubhouse because of the views that can be seen from it currently. Others are worried about increased housing causing overcrowding in the school district, particularly at St. Cloud Elementary School.

“As a parent that has one child at St. Cloud and will have two more going through there, it’s already a race,” Laura Corsetto, who lives near the golf course, said at the meeting. “If you don’t get on kindergarten registration, your child may not be able to go to St. Cloud because there are so many families in this neighborhood.”

Corsetto also mentioned the potential impact of traffic on Northfield Avenue as a concern.

“The concept of tearing down a $5 million clubhouse to rebuild a $5 million clubhouse is unusual,” Rock Spring Road resident Tom Edwards said at the meeting. “In the end, the plan that you’ve proposed is to give a developer the most important part of the entire lot of the 138 acres. That one piece is worth more or as much as the entire property to a developer. So we need to be very careful that we put our interests first and not be swayed by the developers.”

No action was taken at the meeting; Council President Cindy Matute-Brown said the plan is still in its beginning stages. Parisi concurred.

“There’s no rush,” he said. “There’s nothing on the agenda, we’re not asking the council to vote on anything tonight or tomorrow. There’s no deadline. This is what we came up with based on what we’ve seen and addressing as many concerns as we can.”

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