Wantage officials debate greenway purchase

| 22 Feb 2012 | 08:00

    Does down economy justify buying land for open space?, By Tom Hoffman WANTAGE - By some measures, the moribund real estate market provides an ideal opportunity for municipalities like Wantage Township to snap up and preserve undeveloped land. But with many taxpayers facing a financial pinch, at least one Wantage Township official disagrees with the town’s plans to look into buying 48 acres of greenway. At the Feb. 12 Wantage Committee meeting, Township Administrator Jim Doherty recommended that the town spend $2,500 toward the appraisal of a 48-acre parcel of land off Libertyville Road. The goal would be to buy it and preserve it as open space. Sal Garofalo, a contractor who’s offering to sell the acreage to the town, has committed to ponying up the other $2,500 to cover the appraisal himself, says Doherty. The land is adjacent to an 11-unit subdivision that Garofalo is planning to build and it “could make for a nice greenway,” said Doherty. Tax money is in the bank In November 2006, Wantage residents approved a local open space tax, which was later adopted by the committee as an ordinance. In 2007, residents were charged 2 cents per hundred dollars of assessed property value for open space preservation. Last year, taxpayers paid half a cent per hundred dollars of assessed property value for open space preservation, according to information sent by Doherty to The Advertiser-News. The township currently has $354,489.38 in the dedicated open space trust account, according to Doherty. So far the money has not been spent, according to Township Committeeman Bill DeBoer. But, with real estate values depressed, both Doherty and DeBoer think the time might be right to spend the money. Deputy Mayor Clara Nuss disagrees. She is a broker with ERA Best Choice Realtor of Sussex County. “(Wantage) township doesn’t need to be purchasing more property in this economy since more properties will come to the township through tax sales,” said Nuss. Under his authority as township administrator, Doherty said he didn’t need the committee’s approval to direct $2,500 to John McChesney of Swift Real Estate Solutions in Newton to conduct the appraisal, which is expected to take three weeks. Doherty said he will then provide the appraisal report to the town’s Open Space Advisory Committee for their March 30 meeting. Speaking by phone, Garofalo’s Paramus-based attorney, William Strasser, confirmed that negotiations are ongoing between Garofalo and Wantage Township over the potential sale of this land.