One way or another, officials plan to procure or preserve some land this year to realize another borough open space vision.
To that end, at Monday night’s Borough Council meeting, a method was set in motion to secure at least one Monmouth County matching open space grant for one of two proposed projects: either purchasing a 110 Third St. plot of land and clearing it for parking and entry to Fair Haven fields; or, restoring and reforesting the Natural Area, including the installation of deer fencing around the community garden and a blue stone path that would extend from Nativity Church to Fair Haven Road.
Eventually, officials said they would like to see both projects come to fruition, but, for now, the idea is to ensure that if one falls through, such as the purchase of the Third Street property, the other is on the table, paperwork in order and eligible for funding.
The applications for the grant must be submitted by Sept. 14.
“We need to pass a resolution of support (for the plans) by Sept. 10 to submit (the application) by Sept. 14,” borough Administrator Theresa Casagrande said. “The plans don’t always get approved; and we have to have a back-up project available should the acquisition (of the Third Street property) not happen this year.”
The priority project, she added, is the Third Street parking and alternate Fair Haven Fields entry-point plan. The property is estimated to cost the borough $585,000 to $590,000, Mayor Ben Lucarelli said. The borough is currently in negotiations for the purchase. The Third Street spot has long served as an unauthorized cut-through to Fair Haven Fields for kids. “If we end up proceeding with this plan, it’ll be a lit up and legitimate entry point,” Lucarelli said after the meeting.
Priority number two, if the purchase falls through, is the complete restoration of the Fair Haven Fields’ natural area, which would run an estimated $470,000, with a matching commitment of $235,000 in bonded funds from the borough.
As part of the application process, for any eligible project, a town must bond in advance for its prospective portion of an open space project as a show of good faith in covering its portion of the matching grant.
The Fair Haven Fields restoration would, specifically, include: reforesting and removing invasive species and dividing the natural area into five sections (ridge woods, meadow, pine grove, and northeast and northwest woods); installing deer fencing at approximately $25,000; and building the blue stone trail, which, Casagrande said, “is similar to sidewalks, but better for walking and jogging.”
A contingent of residents, who have volunteered over the years to clear the woods of invasive vines that have strangled cherry trees and otherwise thriving forestry, showed up at the meeting in support of the Fair Haven Fields restoration plan.
The group “spent 200 hours last fall planting trees. Every year we have a volunteer day,” leader Dick Fuller said. He suggested that the cost of the proposed Fields project be trimmed by mobilizing more volunteers to complete the restoration and reforesting component, the most costly portion.
“The Fields add a lot to the quality of life in Fair Haven,” resident Gabrielle Illiano said, noting that most people don’t understand the amount of work that is involved in maintaining the natural area. “Many times I have walked through the trails and seen Dick (Fuller) in there wrestling with vines.” The results, she said, have been spectacular beautification.
Longtime resident and meeting regular Ruth Blaser said that she preferred the Third Street plan. She said she feared that if the acre lot were purchased by a builder, it would end up built out with a couple of new homes rather than open space in the form of the cleared lot.
Noting that the borough is only eligible for one matching open space grant per year, Cassagrande said that if the full desired amount is not available for a project, such as the Fair Haven Fields project, it can certainly be re-examined and pared down.
Once county or state funds are accepted for open space acquisition and/or projects, it cannot be developed.