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Lawrence Planning Board approves updated open space document

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With a few minor tweaks, the revised Open Space and Recreation Plan element of the Lawrence Township Master Plan was approved by the Planning Board following a public hearing earlier this week.

Board members reviewed the Open Space and Recreation Plan element in July and set a public hearing and final action on the document for Aug. 6, when it was approved unanimously.

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

Among the highlights in the 24-page document is the recommendation to acquire several properties in southern Lawrence Township for open space preservation.

Those properties are the former Pit Stop service station on Lawrence Road/Route 206, between Meriline and Altamawr avenues; a portion of the Colonial Bowling property on Brunswick Pike; and the former Saturn Chemical Co. plant on Ohio Avenue.

If the municipality purchases those properties they would be added to the 2,748 acres that have been preserved for passive and active recreation, open space and preserved farmland by Lawrence Township, Mercer County and the state. The 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 the additional land would provide.

The document notes that maintaining and preserving open space is becoming more difficult because of development pressures placed on undeveloped land, and states 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 abandoned Saturn Chemical Co. plant.

The Colonial Bowling property is 8.7 acres, but the recommendation is to acquire 5 or 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.

“The acquisition (of a portion of the Colonial Bowling property) would help protect woodland habitat for wildlife and enhance access to Colonial Lake Park’s recreational, social and scenic resources, for it provides the means to legally create a pathway around the entire lake,” the plan said.

The Pit Stop property, once an environmental cleanup has been completed, could become a pocket park, the plan said. It would complement the open space owned by the Church of St. Ann on the north side of Lawrence Avenue and the small garden in front of the Lawrence Road Fire Co. across the street.

The Saturn Chemical Co. property has about 1,500 feet of frontage along the Delaware and Raritan Canal, which could become part of a connecting path between Hamnett Park and Colonial Lake Park, the plan said.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Bunker Hill Avenue resident Jim Hooker said he attended the meeting “to commend the folks who put (the plan) together.” He is among a group of residents pushing for the township to acquire part 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 the application.

If the township purchases the land, Hooker said, it would protect the area from future development. He praised township officials for recommending the purchase of a portion of the Colonial Bowling property in the Open Space and Recreation Plan.

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