mayors columnThe more I pieced together this year’s State of Robbinsville Township Address it became very clear the central theme of township-related business was open space.

Then late last month, when it began to sink in that our dear friend and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Steve Mayer was, tragically, no longer with us, it only strengthened my resolve.

With the township mantra of “Pay it Forward” again serving as the backdrop during the April 13 event at the Mercer County Boathouse, an evening co-hosted by the MIDJersey Chamber of Commerce, a number of ideas, initiatives and possible deals emerged.

With tentative agreements to purchase the Tammaro property on Route 130, the historic Windsor School and having already preserved 16 acres in Town Center South on Route 33, we have plotted a course that we hope will save 430 acres from potential housing development in the coming years.

The lion’s share of that acreage (389) comes in the form of 200 acres across from Robbinsville High School on Robbinsville-Edinburg Road, along with 189 more acres that comprise the former Miry Run Golf Club.

As I mentioned during my address, we will need the public’s help to preserve those two major parcels as open space. Ultimately, this will not be my decision, or a government decision for that matter. This will be your decision. With the blessing of Township Council, I would like to allow the residents to vote on increasing the open space tax by getting that public question onto the November ballot. We feel very strongly that this is government at work.

An increase in the open space tax to purchase the Edinburg property and the golf course will, over the long haul, save money on taxes when you consider that 50 homes, which are what the Edinburg property is currently zoned for, are very likely produce an average of 2.5 children per household. Adding 125 more children to an already overburdened school district over the next 10 years will cost an average of $1 million a year. The school tax increase to educate 125 more students likely will be more than double what I will be requesting through the proposed public ballot question. Simply stated, fewer students means less taxes.

Moving forward with our plan for the Edinburg property would actually mean going against the recommendation of our own Planning Board, which approved the development for residential housing in April. Pretty bold move. The planning board did not do anything wrong, and they had no legal reason to deny the application to build the 50 proposed homes. We just think there’s a better way to utilize that parcel.

The 24-acre Tammaro property has fallen into a state of disrepair. Township plans are to revitalize the site with a second Project Freedom development for individuals with disabilities. This is a project we are particularly excited about, as it will provide more barrier-free living for those in need while adding to our already impressive history of providing affordable housing.

We are currently in talks with the Hamilton YMCA to build a community pool on the preserved Town Center South property, along with more playing fields.

Additionally, it was Dr. Mayer’s idea that the township purchase the historic Windsor School in order to give us some needed meeting space and provide the Recreation Department another vehicle to offer addition programs in arts, crafts and other activities. I am happy to report that the Board of Education, led by President Matthew T. O’Grady, voted to sell the school to the township.

Working together, we can continue to keep taxes stable, limit residential development and increase our amount of open space.

We will also continue to mourn the tragic passing of our dear friend and colleague, Steve Mayer. Together.

Dave Fried is the Mayor of Robbinsville.