Lafayette voters to decide open space improvements

Lafayette. The referendum asks if voters are willing to use a maximum of 30 percent of the township’s Open Space Fund to develop land for recreation and conservation.

22 Oct 2020 | 02:30

Lafayette Township voters will vote on whether to allow the township to use the balance of its Open Space Fund to improve township-preserved properties.

The referendum asks if voters are willing to use a maximum of 30 percent of the fund for land for recreation and conservation. Development is defined as “any improvement to land acquired for recreation and conservation purposes designed to expand and enhance its use.”

Since the voter-approved establishment of the Open Space fund, the township has acquired slightly less than 169 acres for active and passive recreation. The annual tax has also allowed the township to use state and county grants to buy land.

Lafayette has spent $928,634 to complete three preservation projects, but less than a third of the amount came from the local Open Space Fund. The township used grants that covered the bulk of the cost.

Township Committeeman Kevin O’Leary, who is also a member of the Open Space Advisory Committee, said the township is looking to develop the old Lawlor Property off Warbasse Junction Road for active recreation, which could include trails and possibly ballfields, if they become needed. The other two properties are going to remain passive, which means they will be kept for wildlife habitats and nature. “You want to make it for beauty and keeping open spaces that aren’t going to be developed aggressively,” O’Leary said.

The 30 percent cap needed to keep the fund from running out of money. The fund is replenished by an annual tax of up to 3 cents per $100 of assessed property value. “It takes a while to amass money to purchase property,” O’Leary said. “You always need money if you want to conserve a property. You don’t want to deplete the fund because you don’t want to be able to get money from the state and county.”

O’Leary said there is about $200,000 in the fund. The referendum that established the fund didn’t allow for development, just the land buy. This is the first time Lafayette has asked voters about developing those properties.

Using open space funds to develop the properties would also make the township eligible for up to 50 percent matching Green Acres funds. The 2007 Green Acres, Farmland, Blue Acres, and Historic Preservation Bond Act authorized $12 million for land buys in the floodways of the Delaware River, Passaic River or Raritan River, and their tributaries, for recreation and conservation. The question was developed as Lafayette was updating its master plan, and was in line with an update to the township’s recreation plan. The Land Use Board then adopted the recreation plan into the master plan.

“You want to make it for beauty and keeping open spaces that aren’t going to be developed aggressively.” —Kevin O’Leary