Tamarack Hollow land is officially preserved

EAST BRUNSWICK – Middlesex County last week closed on the purchase of 232 acres previously targeted for the 57- home Tamarack Hollow development.

“This is great news for the residents of Middlesex County, and I’m very excited to make this announcement,” Freeholder Director David B. Crabiel said last week. “These 232 acres could have been developed into housing, which would have strained the local schools, infrastructure and roads.”

The freeholders authorized the use of $13 million from the Middlesex County Open Space, Recreation, Farmland and Historic Preservation Trust Fund to purchase the land. The official purchase took place Aug. 30.

The land, which includes farmland, wooded areas, ponds and wetlands, consists of four parcels and is located off Fresh Ponds Road and Church Lane. A sewage treatment facility to serve the approved housing development was also planned for the site, formerly owned by developer Matzel & Mumford.

The Township of East Brunswick contributed an additional $500,000 to the purchase. The purchase agreement provides for East Brunswick to receive a conservation easement on a portion of the land.

Starting in 2002, Matzel & Mumford went through a lengthy and contentious process to gain approval for Tamarack Hollow. The East Brunswick Planning Board voted 7-2 to deny the application in May 2003, but a state Superior Court judge later ruled that the construction be allowed if certain environmental condi- tions were met. The builder had been working to receive state and county approvals to build the development when the sale to the county came about.

Local officials speculated that a slow housing market, as compared to the boom being experienced during the application process, contributed to the developer’s decision to sell the property.

“We thank the freeholders for preserving these very valuable acres, which sit in the township’s rural preservation zone,” East Brunswick Mayor William P. Neary said. “These parcels have long been on our open space priority list, but we could never have purchased them on our own. It’s very good news for our residents.”

The Tamarack Hollow parcels are adjacent to township-owned open space and two farms that have entered the state Farmland Preservation Program.

“One of the mandates of the original Open Space Trust Fund Committee was to buy lands contiguous to other open lands to create greenways or open space corridors,” said Freeholder Camille Fernicola, liaison to the county Open Space Advisory Committee. “The environment is well served by this purchase, and our residents have another beautiful swath of land for passive recreation pursuits.”

The county has preserved or placed under contract more than 6,390 acres of open space since the program began in 1997. Currently, the Middlesex County Improvement Authority, which completes due diligence for the county’s open space program, is evaluating about 1,350 acres for possible acquisition.