Township seeking residents’ opinions for Green Acres application

Medford Township’s current Open Space and Farmland Inventory map (Medford Township/Special to The Sun).

Medford Township’s zoning officer hosted the first of two public hearings on Oct. 2 on what the zoning and planning boards should hear for possible additions or subtractions from the Open Space Recreational Plan.

The township is a member of the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Acres program to set plots of land aside for preservation, in perpetuity.

“Medford has been aggressive in open space and farmland preservation as a methodology to control strategic development in the town,” said Beth Portocalis, the township’s zoning officer.

Its most recent acquisition is Cow Point. The latest revision to the open space plan was “over 10 years ago” with farmland, Camp Ockanickon being transferred to the YMCA of the Pines, among others.

The current map is available on MedfordTownship.com.

The open space plan is being redone at the same time as the master plan is being reviewed.

Portocalis said the township can target properties to acquire and once it is on the list, it stays there and can’t be redone in the future.

She added, through the public hearings, the township is able to find out what residents are seeking, and could use grants or capital funds from the budget to implement some of the suggestions.

While the community does have the opportunity to suggest anything at will, Portocalis said they can only consider items that are recreational for the Green Acres-Open Space Recreational Plan.

A resident who did not identify herself inquired if Medford has considered erecting an indoor recreational building, like Marlton’s Blue Barn.

Portocalis and township manager Kathy Burger said it would cost between $500,000 and $1 million to build, and additional costs associated with general upkeep and maintenance that the township couldn’t afford.

“We used funds from a public trust account to make Kirby’s Mills School’s gym into a full-size gym and it was used when there was a recreation department,” Portocalis said. “It was used during all non-school hours for the township. That agreement is still in effect.”

She clarified that with changes in school safety, it can be difficult to be used right now, however, the Medford Youth Athletic Association uses the local school district’s facilities for its indoor sports.

Other residents raised concerns or suggestions about the township looking to extend or connect bike paths and to make them safe; to review the township’s use agreement with Camp Ockanickon and JCC Camps; to erect or take a portion of the Freedom Barks Dog Park and create a fenced in portion to separate small and big dogs; and to create a pickleball court.

“The kids are playing pickleball, and they’re teaching it to them at the high schools,” Burger said.

Another resident who did not identify herself, said the township lacks a public pickleball court and they have to venture to Marlton and other areas to play the sport.

Burger added she has researched how much it costs to create a court – $180,000 – however, she wants to do the project as part of a capital program in the budget, and not use the Burlington County Municipal Park Grant Program to construct the courts due to delays in getting funds dispersed.

Township planner Michelle Taylor said there are a lot of opportunities for the township to explore the options presented to it by residents, but there are also barriers due to the township being in the Pinelands and the growing concerns over flooding and stormwater management.

“One of the wonderful things about Medford is that we have a lot of surface water, and one of the terrible things about Medford is that we have a lot of surface water,” Taylor said.

She added it creates barriers and obstacles in people traveling in and out of town on bicycles, and on the township in addressing traveling issues without creating further problems.

The next public hearing is on Oct. 23, at the police station (91 Union St.) at 7 p.m.