City to use grant for land buy

Lambertville will put the $400,000 state Department of Environmental Protection grant toward the $1.4 million purchase of the Buchanan property on Connaught Hill.

By: Linda Seida
   LAMBERTVILLE — The state Department of Environmental Protection Green Acres Program has awarded Lambertville a $400,000 grant for the preservation of open space.
   Mayor David Del Vecchio said the money will go toward the $1.4 million purchase price of 16 acres known locally as the Buchanan property for owners Win and Pat Buchanan of Rosemont Avenue.
   Eleven acres are located on the hill behind the Lambertville Public School. Another five acres sit along Jefferson Road.
   The grant has been approved by the Garden State Preservation Trust, but, as part of the normal grant process, still must be approved by the state Legislature.
   Last November, Lambertville voters approved a 2-cent tax on every $100 of assessed property value to pay for the land purchase. The Green Acres grant will reduce taxpayers’ costs, but Mayor Del Vecchio was not sure by how much. The city still is looking at funding options to offset even more of the cost to remove the burden from taxpayers, he said.
   "We think this is great that the state, through the Green Acres Program, is participating in the open space program that was approved by the residents of the city," Mayor Del Vecchio said. "That’s $400,000 that we don’t have to look to the residents of the city for, which is always good."
   The city also might be able to reduce the total to be raised by another $250,000. That’s the amount of a loan Green Acres made to the city, originally intended for improvements to Ely Field. The city now has asked permission to shift the money to the open space purchase, Mayor Del Vecchio said.
   In the meantime, Ely Field will not be left bereft of improvements. The city has received a $50,000 Livable Communities Grant from the DEP for the field’s improvements.
   The funds could go toward "improved bathrooms, getting more playground equipment, a whole bunch of things," Mayor Del Vecchio said.
   The grant will be discussed further during a special meeting of the City Council scheduled for July 5 at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.
   The Buchanan land, which needs a special appraisal for the Green Acres Program, is undergoing the appraisal process now, according to Mayor Del Vecchio.
   "They’re working on it as we speak," he said.
   The city would need to borrow $750,000 to purchase the land after applying the recent $400,000 Green Acres grant, if Green Acres allows the $250,000 loan shift. Right now, the city is expecting to pay a market rate of 4.5 percent to finance the purchase, which taxpayers would cover with the 2-cent tax.
   If Lambertville had to pay the entire $1.4 million cost, a homeowner whose property is assessed at the city average of $260,127 would pay $52 a year for 20 years.
   The receipt of the $400,000 grant "will mean obviously less than $52," Mayor Del Vecchio said, although he was uncertain yet of how much less. In the meantime, the city hopes to win more state funds to lower taxpayers’ share, Mayor Del Vecchio said.
   The recent round of projects approved for funding by the Garden State Preservation Trust, of which Lambertville’s grant was a part, includes $83 million for municipal and county land acquisition projects, $38.4 million for the development of local parks and recreational facilities, $16 million for acquisition projects by nonprofit organizations and $10.8 million for recreational development by nonprofit organizations.
   The Green Acres Program was created in 1961 to meet the state’s growing recreation and conservation needs. With public and private partners, Green Acres has protected more than 568,000 acres of open space and provided hundreds of outdoor recreational facilities in communities around the state. The total of protected open space and farmland across the state has exceeded 1.2 million acres.