West Windsor takes close look at open space

Report may eventually be integrated into Master Plan.

By: Shanay Cadette
   WEST WINDSOR — Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh hopes a report on the present and future use of open space that was completed last year will eventually be integrated into the township’s Master Plan.
   The Planning Board heard details of that report — culled together by the mayor’s Open Space Utilization Task Force — at its Wednesday meeting.
   The task force was charged by the mayor in 2002 with studying the current and projected open-space needs in the township, and offering recommendations, goals and methods for financing future land acquisition. Completed in May, the report also establishes a timeline to meet its recommendations over a six-year period. Those recommendations are to be revisited every six years.
   The 12-member task force — which included township officials and residents — met for about a year to closely examine what is termed environmental recreation/conservation and active recreation properties, possible environmental restrictions, farmland and greenbelt uses in the township. The task force also split into two groups to study the active and environmental recreation/conservation properties to determine what "we have and what do we need for the community," said Township Landscape Architect Dan Dobromilsky, who assisted the task force.
   Environmental recreation/conservation includes things like boating, dog parks and nature centers, while active recreation refers to things like golf or roller skating.
   Charts in the report list property uses, projected needs, estimated costs to meet those needs, possible funding sources and other details. There are also conceptual drawings in the report that map out potential open-space uses.
   The task force members conceded Wednesday that the financial implications of the report are ambitious. For example, the report suggests $9 million be spent on open space in 2004-2005. Yet, Mr. Dobromilsky said not all of those funds would come from township sources and stressed the recommendations are not set in stone.
   "The numbers here are supposed to be looked at as a reference," Mr. Hsueh said.
   Township Council Vice President Jackie Alberts, who was a member of the task force, said the report must reflect the township’s need for more playgrounds. She’s also concerned that some open-space land is currently restricted from public use. She specifically noted the Bridegroom farm property on Old Trenton Road is leased to farmers.
   "We need more for the public, more for public uses," Ms. Alberts said. "We’re going to lose public support, and we need to take an active role to show the public that their open-space money has been well spent."
   Several officials said after the meeting that playgrounds are addressed in the report.
   As to restricted public uses on leased farms, Mayor Hsueh said a contract provision gives the township the right to take back control of leased farming property with a year’s notice. And there’s nothing to preclude the township from incorporating trails along the leased properties being worked by farmers or offering community education programs at the farms. He also said the township can use the rent charged to farmers to maintain those properties while the township pursues funding to develop the properties.
   Planning Board member Steve Decter questioned why the report lacks provisions for outdoor cultural activities, such as stages for concerts or plays.
   Task force members and officials said the report offers a foundation for the township to move forward on plans for open space, but cautioned many things in the document are likely to change or be refined.
   Planning Board Chairman Marvin Gardner said he would like two task force members to sit down with the board’s ordinance committee to go over the report and identify priorities before the board adopts the report into the Master Plan.
   Since the open-space tax was established in 1994, the township has used those monies along with state and county funds to preserve more than 1,500 acres of open space. Of the 16,830 acres in the township, just under 8,000 acres have been preserved as open space using township, county and state funds.