By: Linda Seida – Staff Writer
LAMBERTVILLE – Voters will determine if the city should spend nearly $200,000 on slightly more than half an acre of undeveloped land in the floodplain to preserve it as open space.
The question will be put to voters on Nov. 2 as a non-binding referendum, but Mayor David Del Vecchio said the city would treat the ballot question as binding, "so this election matters."
"It gives voters the opportunity to say, ‘It’s a good addition to the city’s open space inventory,’ or, ‘No, it’s not,’" the mayor said when the City Council unanimously approved the ballot question Aug. 16.
He said later, "That’s the great thing about a referendum – people have the ability to say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’" "People who like the idea should encourage their neighbors to support the referendum."
If a majority of voters give their approval, the land would fall under the jurisdiction of the city’s Recreation Commission, Mayor Del Vecchio said. The commission would decide if the site should hold a park or be put to some other use. Julia Taylor, whose environmental group, SEE Lambertville, is constructing a community garden at Ely Field this summer, requested that the city consider allowing a larger community garden to be planted there.
The plot is owned by Allied Village Square. It has an application before the city’s Planning Board to build six raised townhouses on the lot, and Allied Village Square now is seeking final site plan approval. The application stalled previously as Allied Village Square responded to the state’s worries over drainage, but it is now on track. The site has flooded in the past, Acting Clerk Cynthia Ege said.
Despite the plan to raise the dwellings, a concern still exists over flooding because the addition of impervious surface, such as the foundation and parking areas, could still have an effect on the site’s drainage, she said.
Mayor Del Vecchio said in addition to flooding, the site’s neighbors also are concerned about additional runoff.
The question is being put to voters because residents who live nearby asked for the opportunity to preserve the site, the mayor said.
"The residents are very concerned because it’s in a flood area," Ms. Ege said. "The concern is for the impervious surface. Where would that water go? They’re worried because drainage is an issue. The residents encouraged the mayor to pursue it."
The land, which sits behind the CVS Pharmacy on North Main Street, is about .56 acres. It is assessed at $196,000.
If voters approve the purchase, the funding would come from the city’s open space tax, which is currently 1 cent per $100 of assessed valuation after officials agreed to temporarily halve the tax earlier this year. The City Council did not set a date when the tax would be returned to its normal rate of 2 cents per $100 of assessed value. The rate will be restored at the council’s discretion.
The purchase is not eligible for state funding through the Green Acres program, as other city open space purchases have been, Ms. Ege said. The plot is too small, and it is not contiguous to other preserved land, she said.
Previous open space purchases were aided by Green Acres grants and low-interest loans. The Buchanan property behind Ely Field, for example, qualified for $575,000 in state grants and $250,000 in loans with 2-percent interest rates. The city purchased the 16.5 acres for $1.4 million.