At a community meeting on Feb. 16 at Rock Spring Golf Club, residents were met with a “good news/bad news” presentation by township administrators. The good news: the 18-hole golf course is incredibly popular, with golfers playing 33,000 rounds on it last year. The bad news: debt service on the $12.2 million purchase alone wiped out any profit to the town. Add on various capital expenses, and the property is actually costing taxpayers $1.3 million a year to own and operate. Plus, the course needs more than $5 million in additional capital improvements. The presentation made crystal clear the township can’t even consider breaking even without selling off some property.
Four non-contiguous parcels that hug the ridge or abut residences (in total about nine acres) were identified for potential development. Township Attorney Trenk indicated that 150 residential units can be located on those small parcels. In addition, there was talk about the poor condition of the clubhouse and how ill-suited it is for a public course. So it’s not a stretch to consider that with its spectacular view of New York City, the clubhouse area is the most coveted parcel by a developer and may also be in play.
My concerns about dense development in a residential neighborhood on the environmentally sensitive ridge is why I was so encouraged to hear that Essex County still has a very strong interest in acquiring the property. County Executive DiVincenzo’s public statements this week reaffirm his long-expressed desire to own and run Rock Spring as an 18-hole golf course and preserve the entire 138 acres as open space through Green Acres funding. In response to the County Executive, Mayor McCartney stated the property is not for sale, and “my goal is to continue to preserve Rock Spring as an 18-hole golf course.” What the mayor did not say is that she intends to keep all 138 acres of Rock Spring open space — because West Orange can’t afford to do so.
The county executive and the mayor are meeting on this issue at the end of March. I hope the two parties can come together and negotiate a deal that preserves all the land as open space and prevents any future development, while taking the financial burden off West Orange taxpayers and giving our residents a number of benefits — similar to a deal struck with the City of Orange that gave the County access to its reservoir and created a fabulous park and recreation area. It could be a win-win for all concerned!
Clare Silvestri, West Orange resident