Planning board reviews recommendation to purchase additional land for preservation

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A portion of the Colonial Bowling and Entertainment Center property on Brunswick Pike, the former Pit Stop service station on Lawrence Road and the abandoned Saturn Chemical site on Ohio Avenue should be considered for the acquisition of open space.

Acquiring those parcels is among the recommendations included in the revised Open Space and Recreation Plan element of the Lawrence Township Master Plan.

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The Lawrence Township Planning Board reviewed the Open Space and Recreation Plan earlier this month. A public hearing and final action is set for the board’s Aug. 6 meeting.

The Open Space and Recreation Plan must be reviewed periodically so the township can maintain its eligibility for state Green Acres program funding to buy land for open space preservation, township officials said.

In addition to identifying parcels that could be acquired for open space preservation, the Open Space and Recreation Plan lists all of the land that has been preserved in Lawrence Township, from municipal parks to parcels maintained by Mercer County and by the state.

In total, 2,748 acres have been preserved for passive and active recreation, open space, and preserved farmland by all three governmental entities. Lawrence Township owns 1,075 acres of parks and conservation areas.

The Open Space and Recreation Plan recommends acquiring more land for open space preservation, citing the “scenic vistas” and the benefits for the ecology of the township that acquiring additional land would provide.

The document notes that maintaining and preserving open space is becoming more difficult because of the development pressures placed on undeveloped land, and that land is highly sought after “for many different and competing purposes.”

“The ability to acquire additional open space is limited and the opportunity to do so will recede over time. Investment in open space today will yield far-reaching benefits for the future,” the Open Space and Recreation Plan states.

That is why the plan has recommended acquiring part of the Colonial Bowling property, the former Pit Stop service station and the former Saturn Chemical plant.

The Colonial Bowling property is 8.7 acres, but the recommendation is to acquire 5 to 6 acres that border Colonial Lake. The Pit Stop property is about one-third of an acre and the Saturn Chemical property is 5.3 acres.

During the public comment portion of this month’s meeting, several audience members pushed for the acquisition of a portion of the Colonial Bowling property.

The owners of the Colonial Bowling property have proposed building an extended-stay hotel on the land that borders Colonial Lake. Residents who live in the neighborhood surrounding the lake are opposed to that proposal.

Lake Drive resident Tom Ritter told the Planning Board that buying the acreage would complete the parkland around Colonial Lake and also help to stop the commercial development that is encroaching in southern Lawrence Township.

If the land is preserved, the path around Colonial Lake could be expanded to tie together the two neighborhoods that surround Colonial Lake, Ritter said. A footbridge could be built across the Shabakunk Cree, which feeds into Colonial Lake.

“Those are really important acres,” said Jim Hooker, who lives on Bunker Hill Avenue. The wooded area “really belongs” in Colonial Lake Park, he said. Different species of wildlife live in the woods.

“The importance of this sanctuary to the southern end of the township is really almost beyond words,” Hooker said. He encouraged municipal officials to dip into the money generated by the township’s open space tax.

Axel Haenssen, who lives on President Avenue, pointed out that Colonial Lake Park is accessible to visitors who rely on public transportation, unlike other township parks.

In response, Municipal Manager Kevin Nerwinski, who sits on the Planning Board, said the board is not the governmental body residents should approach in regard to buying the land surrounding Colonial Lake.

By law, it is up to Township Council, not the Planning Board, to decide whether it wants to pursue the acquisition of the land, how much it would cost and how to pay for it.

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