Camden County to Vote for Open Space Funds (NJ)

Camden County, NJ, 6/24/05: The Camden County Freeholder Board has authorized a ballot question seeking a one-cent increase in the Open Space, Recreation, Farmland, and Historic Preservation Trust Fund levy. The funds would be used to protect drinking water sources and water quality, improve park safety, and preserve natural areas and open space throughout Camden County. If approved by the voters in November, the Clean Water, Safe Parks, and Open Space ballot measure would provide funding to protect Camden County’s land, air, and water.

“We are thrilled that the freeholders have taken up this very important issue, and expect that it will receive strong support,” said Cindy Roberts of the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit organization that is supporting additional funding for the County Open Space Trust Fund. “A lot of good work has been done in the last few years to conserve Camden County’s limited remaining open space, but without sufficient funds to continue, we face an endless march of sprawl over our communities.”

The cost to the average Camden County homeowner would be less than $1 per month ($11 a year) for an additional $2.8 million in land water conservation funding annually. Funds would be available to the county, cities, and nonprofit organizations for a variety of projects to protect water quality and drinking water sources, improve the safety of neighborhood parks, acquire farmland to protect it from development, and provide new recreational facilities at existing county and city parks. If the proposal is approved, Camden County will also be eligible for millions of additional dollars from the state and federal government for land preservation.

“The voters of Camden County deserve the opportunity to decide how best to protect our water, air, and land,” said Freeholder Jeffery L. Nash, liaison to the Open Space Preservation Trust Fund Advisory Committee.

Across the country, county governments routinely seek voter approval for open space ballot measures, in most cases general obligation bonds. Between 1999 and 2003, 97 of 123 county open space ballot measures were approved by voters, with 79% support.

Supporters of the measure are buoyed by a public opinion survey of Camden County voters commissioned last year indicating that 58 percent of Camden County voters would support .an increase in the levy for the Open Space Trust Fund. The poll was commissioned by the Trust for Public Land.

“There is no question that, given the opportunity, voters will support this legislation. It would be a bargain at three times the price,” said Nash.

In past years, the county invested public funds in the preservation of Stafford Farm in Voorhees Township, Springdale Farms in Cherry Hill, Slim’s Ranch in Gloucester Township, and Lake Worth in Lindenwold and Berlin Boroughs, and made numerous grants to municipalities and organizations to support their preservation priorities and to supplement their funds for park enhancements and preservation projects. Recent work and current conservation projects include:

Lindenwold and Berlin Boroughs-Lake Worth Park II: An eight-acre addition to Lake Worth Park, created by the county in 2001. The forested property, which is within the County’s proposed Greenway System, includes trails linking Lake Worth Park and the county’s Lange property in Berlin Borough. The land protection effort includes a water quality component as the property includes the headwaters area of the Big Timber Creek and protects a portion of a stream network that includes seven lakes.

Cherry Hill Township-Bridge Hollow: Thirty-eight acres adjacent to the North Branch of the Cooper River. This property, in the County’s proposed Greenway System, was identified as a priority for preservation in TPL’s River to Bay Greenway Framework and Concept Plan, which was incorporated into the county’s Open Space Master Plan. Half the site consists of wetlands in the most eastern headwaters area of the North Branch. The remaining portion was under imminent threat of development of 58 single-family homes, as a result of litigation between the landowner and the township.

Somerdale Borough-Kiejdan: Over eight acres with over 600 feet of frontage on the South Branch of the Cooper River. The property, which lies within the County’s proposed Greenway System, is already being used by the public as open space with a trail and decretive plantings on site. Protection would provide a permanent public recreational outlet where none currently exists.

Clementon Borough-Signal Hill: With 34 acres of steep slopes and spring water this site has a developed trail system that is heavily used by the public. Close to the borough’s elementary school, plans for the site would provide the opportunity to develop ball fields in the future, however the majority of the property will remain in its natural state. Subject to litigation between the landowner and the borough, preservation of this site prevents 62 single-family homes.

Voorhees-Kirkwood Forest: A 15.4-acre property that has final approval for 105,000 square feet of office space and 500 parking spaces. Over 70 residents appeared at a township meeting protesting the development of the site. Already used by residents for hiking and located in close proximity to the South Branch of the Cooper River, this property ranked eleventh on the township’s Open Space Inventory.

Winslow Township – The County and Winslow Township have identified several farms in the township for possible preservation. The County has successfully qualified for a New Jersey State Agricultural Development Committee Planning Incentive Grant for $1.5 million per year, over the next four years, to assist in this preservation effort. To receive these funds, the county must match the amount locally.

Six municipalities in Camden County have approved open space ballot measures over the past half a dozen years; additional county funding could spur other local governments to follow suit.

“We must do all we can to save what’s left,” said Nash.

The Trust for Public Land is a national nonprofit land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and natural areas, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Since 1972, TPL has helped protect more than two million acres of land in 46 states, including more than 21,000 acres in New Jersey.