Council outlines Maple Grange deal

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:48

    VERNON-Vernon Township residents attending the township council meeting July 8 got a glimpse at a preliminary proposal for a 48-acre park at Maple Grange that could possibly connect with Veterans Memorial Park to create a centralized park for sports and other recreation here. "This has been the priority since day one," said Mayor Ira Weiner as he outlined what he stressed was only a preliminary deal. Under the current proposal, the town will sell about 134 acres of the Maple Grange property to the state of New Jersey for approximately $948,000, retaining 48 acres to use for a park. The state will pay Vernon about $6,000 per acre for the property it purchases outright, as well as a $3,000 per acre conservation easement on the 48 acres. A condition of the easement is that the site will remain recreational "in perpetuity," according to the presentation, which can be viewed at The land sold to the State will become part of the Waywayanda State Park system and will be managed by the park service, said Weiner. Vernon will be free to propose future additional recreational opportunities such as a bike trail or hiking trail to highlight the historical Native American archeological site on the front portion of the property. In addition, the township already has $500,000 in Green Acres money to be used to purchase additional future recreational property. Vernon may also apply for $500,000 more in low cost loans for improvements at Veterans' Memorial Park on Vernon Crossing Road. Connectivity between Veterans' Memorial Park and the Maple Grange fields was a key point in creating a central park. If the two properties are connected, "you have a hell of a recreational facility for the township," said Weiner. Concrete plans for the design of the facility, as well as final language of the contract, are still unspecified, according to Weiner. He added that he is hopeful that the contract language can be hammered out in a couple of weeks. "We waited long enough, let's do it right," said Weiner. Additional aspects of the fields, such as field overlap to maximize use of the fields and potential use of artificial turf to minimize wear and tear, are still to be decided. "Having the park next to the historic area is an asset to Vernon," said council member Phil Weiler. "We have come a long way from the state's initial offer," said council member Neil Desmond, council liaison to the Vernon recreational committee who served on the park subcommittee appointed to re-evaluate the Maple Grange property with Deputy Mayor Janet Morrision. The town council returned to the Maple Grange property after considering a "swap" with the Van Dokkenburg property. Desmond and Weiner met with N.J. DEP deputy commissioner Jay Watson to view both properties and negotiate an agreement that would provide the township with athletic fields and recreational property while preserving the archeological area, which contains artifacts dating back 8,000-10,000 years. "Once all the facts were laid out, [the council] worked towards doing what was in the best interests of Vernon," said Weiler. "As a group, we've all brought our passion to the process," said council member Jeff Patterson. "We've negotiated a really good deal." Several residents spoke to thank the council and mayor for their work on the deal, as well as to ask questions and encourage the council to continue to solicit public input on the design proposal.