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Sale of property by Colonial Lake ends proposal to build extended stay hotel

Lea Kahn/Staff
Lawrence Township officials have closed on the purchase of 5.9 acres of land to add to Colonial Lake Park.

Lawrence Township has closed on the eagerly anticipated purchase of nearly six acres of land bordering Colonial Lake from Sheft Associates, Inc., owners of the Colonial Bowling and Entertainment Center at 2420 Brunswick Pike.

Lawrence Township officials and Sheft Associates Inc. representatives signed the paperwork needed to transfer ownership of the 5.9-acre parcel July 17. The purchase price is $3.65 million. Money for the deal is coming from the township’s open space fund and grants.

The land that the township is buying has been subdivided from a larger 8.8-acre parcel that holds the Colonial Bowling and Entertainment Center. The agreement gives Lawrence the right of first refusal to buy the remainder, if Sheft Associates decides to sell the rest of the land in the future.

Sheft Associates agreed to sell the land after being approached about the purchase by Lawrence Township officials. The sale effectively ends Sheft Associates’ proposal to build a 123-room extended stay hotel on the property.

The proposal to build the hotel drew fierce opposition from residents in the Colonial Lakelands neighborhood, across the lake from the property. The hotel, which would have been built on the banks of Colonial Lake, would have meant cutting down the wooded area for it.

The residents formed a group – Save Colonial Lake – and advocated for the township to buy the land to preserve it. They pointed to the wildlife, including an American bald eagle, that call it home. The township stepped in and offered to buy the land.

Jim Hooker, the president of Friends of Colonial Lake Park Inc., praised township officials for buying the land. The July 17 settlement “puts the finishing touch on saving Colonial Lake Park from the incursion of commercial development. It is great and welcome news for the people of Lawrence Township and the surrounding area,” he said.

“We have all seen and appreciated the very significant uptick in the number of park visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is yet another example of how our beloved park, as well as the diverse wildlife it provides a home and shelter to, continues to provide an incalculable benefit to township residents,” Hooker said.

Lawrence Township is using $1.4 million from its open space fund and a matching $1.4 million grant from the Mercer County Open Space Assistance Program, plus a $711,133  grant from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Acres Program.

The agreement calls for the township to pay $1 million in two annual payments of $500,000 each – one in July 2021 and another in July 2022. By spreading the payments over the next two years, the township can apply for more grant funding in those years for the project and preserve its open space fund for other projects.

Mayor Jim Kownacki said Lawrence Township is “extremely grateful” to its grant partners that helped to make the purchase possible. Colonial Lake has been a “treasured destination” for Lawrence residents, he said.

“With this additional land, we have a great opportunity to improve the park experience. We are committed to doing so,” Kownacki said.

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