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‘This is our money’

What happened to the Mulberry Street open-space plan

Courtesy of CME Associates
Delran officials preserved 34 acres for open space with the purchase of Myers Tract, now Delran Community Park.

The property at 102 Mulberry St. was supposed to be developed into a tot lot.

That was 40 years ago. Delran officials mentioned the property in their open-space plan a decade ago so they could qualify for funds from the state’s Green Acres program.

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“The property technically has a deed restriction on it where it’s not supposed to be developed for any private use and has to be public open space,” Christopher Dochney, of CME Engineers, explained to council at a special meeting in November.

Fast forward to the present: The property was never developed into a tot lot and is now a private property with a house on it.

“At some point in the mid ’80s, somebody determined they didn’t want to do a tot lot … so it got sold off,” Dochney said. “Somebody built a house and they’ve been living there for a while.”

But all that time, the property was supposed to be on the recreation and open-space inventory.

“Somebody at Green Acres noticed this discrepancy 10 years ago and notified the town,” Dochney pointed out. “Because of this discrepancy, this property is not held for recreation and open space anymore. There’s about $500,000 in other funds through the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), through Green Acres, that the township would be collecting, but (it is) ineligible at this time because this property is a house rather than a park right now.”

Dochney acknowledged that “these kinds of errors do happen.”

“There is a process through DEP to address these called a recreation open-space inventory (ROSI) diversion process,” he noted. “Essentially, the state is saying you were supposed to have a tot lot here as a recreation open-space parcel. You have to compensate.”

Because of the private entities involved, the situation in Delran is considered a major diversion, so officials have to find new open space, namely recreation lands with a 20:1 compensation ratio in terms of size of land and value.

“We have had discussions with Green Acres’ staff and shown them what this property is, as well as our proposed property that we are going to donate,” Dochney said.

The proposed program is part of the Timber Ridge subdivision development on Moorestown-Bridgeboro Road that was approved a few years ago.

“It is now under construction, and as part of a settlement agreement for affordable housing, we included a five-acre parcel in there that the applicant had to donate to the township specifically for this (diversion) purpose,” Dochney pointed out.

Mayor Gary Catrambone said the property error was discovered when officials sought matching Green Acres funds for the purchase of the Myers Tract, now Delran Community Park.

“When we discovered this 10 years ago, we said, ‘OK, let’s work this thing out with the folks at Timber Ridge’ … And they were going to deed us open space,” the mayor said. “That would compensate the open-space folks and (the donation is) 20 times the quarter acre that we lost, giving us five acres.”

Catrambone said with that five acres, $500,000 in open-space funds could be freed up for the township.

“It’s not like we are hoping to get a grant,” he emphasized. “This is our money.”

Dochney said Green Acres’ staff recently set a March 15 deadline date to show significant progress on finding new open-space land, or the township would forfeit the approximately half-million in funds. He acknowledged that the township needs to show “good faith progress,” namely gathering all documents; submitting an application; and holding a scoping hearing, meaning a first public session for residents to be made aware of the issue.

Dochney said while the open-space process may seem straightforward, it is a cumbersome and lengthy 12-step process. A sign has to be posted on the Mulberry Street property indicating there will no longer be a park proposed there; surveys of the property must be done; and separate appraisals of the two parcels must be submitted to demonstrate the value of what is being lost in the park land on Mulberry, versus what the township is proposing with the new property.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection will then review the findings and multiple public hearings will be held. There will eventually be a hearing for approval at the statehouse.


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