On Monday, Orange Township’s parks board found the township’s trustees lacking a vision for future green space as land becomes limited because of rapid development.
“Farmland is diminishing quickly,” warned Barrett Ault, Orange Township Parks Board president. “At this point, we’re at a stalemate.”
Ault told the board of trustees that the park board’s vision for the future is to gain more land to create additional parks, to connect trails, and to connect neighborhoods. She said developers are snatching up land quickly leaving very few parcels for additional parks.
“With that in mind, we know that space is very limited in the township,” she said. “If a property [became] available to purchase, we as a parks board would like to know if the trustees … have a plan … to make those sort of decisions on a quick basis if needed?”
Ault referenced a piece of property for sale at the corner of Orange Road and Old State Road that she called the “White Property.”
“It is still available, nobody has bought it yet,” she said. “They have plans for the property and what they can do with it, but there is also a lot that we as a township could do with it if we did choose to purchase it.”
Ault said she knew trustees had discussed the “White property” behind closed doors in an executive session, but upon returning to the public meeting they quickly had dismissed purchasing the property.
“I felt like that would have been a good opportunity for the trustees and the parks board to have an open line of communication,” she said. If nothing else but “to at least see if [the parks board] had a vision for the space instead of just saying we can’t do it.”
Ault said in a recent poll on Facebook, out 874 votes, 98 percent of residents would like to see the property used as a park or green space. She then referenced the Comprehensive Land Use Plan where residents were surveyed recently.
“Every other comment is connecting existing trails, preserving farms, preserving land, preserving green space, adding more parks, that is what the residents really want,” she said. “At this stage in our planning within the parks department, we’re done. We have one more piece of land that we can do something with behind old township hall.”
Ault said the parks board would like to see more open discussions about how land can be purchased in the future and how the parks board envisions the use of the property.
Trustee Ryan Rivers said Ault touched on two important things, vision and the Comprehensive Land Use Plan.
“I think vision is absolutely the keyword here, we want to have a strong vision,” he said. “I think the comp plan is overall pulling together and we have a strong plan going forward. I think we’re doing that now, it’s not quite there yet, but I think that it is a great blueprint for what we’re doing.”
Rivers said it’s not just land but also the financial side that needs to be looked at. He said the piece that is lacking is “what are our wants and what are our needs.”
“We really need to establish that and get it into concrete as far as do we have the resources to go and buy land?” he said. “If we do, okay, how are we going to buy it, how are we going to finance it? Then once we do buy it, what’s the plan? It all goes together. There is a beginning and there is an end.”
Trustee Lisa Knapp said historically the township has not purchased property in the past other than land for the township hall and the Orange Bridge Park property.
“We’ve typically had all of our parkland donated to us,” she said.
Ault said the reason there were so many properties donated was that past trustees knocked on doors asking residents if they would be interested in donating their property once they had passed away.
Knapp said that North Orange and Glenn Oak Parks were land donations from developers.
“I think that’s where we’re at today, the area has changed so much,” Rivers said. “ We have so many demands and the strain on us right now with our population, there is so much to consider.”
Rivers said going forward he wanted to make sure what the trustees had a consensus of the public and a strong plan in place.
“I think there is a concern with our property taxes,” he said. “We’re getting to a point where there is push back.”
Rivers told Ault the trustees weren’t saying never to additional park space. He said the township needs a plan in place before moving forward.
Knapp said the township didn’t have the money to purchase additional land nor was she in favor of “hoarding money” in case a property did become available.
“I would like to have the property scoped out,” she said before adding, “I can’t think of any other property that might become available.”
“That’s the problem,” Ault said.
Offering up a possible solution, Trustee Debbie Taranto said there was the general fund and a property on US 23 that could be sold to offset the cost.
“We could actually make more money than what we would use to purchase the ‘White Property,’” she said.
Ault said the parks board wants to know that the trustees are “visionary enough to see that there is so much this township can do and have.”
“The trustees don’t have a vision of their own,” Ault said in an interview with The Gazette. “It’s all about the lack of land for additional parks and the trustees not having a plan in place.”
Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.