Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

'Now or Never' to Preserve Oakland Tract

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

'Now or Never' to Preserve Oakland Tract

Article excerpt

OAKLAND -- An 85-acre tract at the heart of a decades-long legal battle could be preserved as open space if the borough receives the multimillion-dollar county grant it needs to buy it.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has already approved construction of 204 homes and town houses on the site, nestled in the borough's southeastern corner west of Breakneck Road. Those in the conservation community say the grant application is a last-ditch attempt to buy the property and preserve it before developers' shovels hit the soil.

"We're at the point of 'now or never,'" said Kathy Haake, senior project manager for the Trust for Public Land, a private non-profit attempting to facilitate the land's sale and preservation. "We're just trying to rally the troops and figure out what's going to be an appropriate offer to the landowner -- what we can fund, and what they'll accept."

But whether the purchase can take place will likely hinge on the fate of the $4.75 million grant application the Land Conservancy of New Jersey, acting as the borough's open space consultant, has submitted to the Bergen County Open Space Trust Fund. The Borough Council approved the submittal on Aug. 26, and officials will make a presentation to the county's Open Space Advisory Committee on Oct. 26.

The committee will make its recommendation at the end of November, said Borough Administrator Richard Kunze, and the county freeholders will award the grants in March.

The landowner -- the Brooklyn-based Bi-County Development Corp. - - is "certainly willing" to consider selling the land if the price is right, said representing attorney David Oberlander. "If there can't be a conservation purchase, [Bi-County] intends to go forward and develop the property. But they're certainly willing to sell for conservation purposes in lieu of developing it," Oberlander said.

Conservancy land preservation specialist Aaron Cela estimated the property, dubbed the "High Mountain extension," is worth about $8 million. Its acquisition, he said, would be an "important step" in linking the nearby Lt. Carey A. Arthur Memorial Park with the 1,200- acre High Mountain Park Preserve in neighboring Wayne. …

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