If Fair Lawn doesn’t spend its remaining $365,000 of Green Acres grant funding on open space acquisitions by the end of the year, it risks losing both the current funding and future open space funding opportunities from the state.
“It’s kind of like a use it or lose it type of thing,” borough manager Tom Metzler said. “Our consultant, Michael Hakim, is concerned that if the borough doesn’t spend the money this year they’re going to lose the grant, and in losing the grant would probably make it more difficult to get future grants.”
Hakim, the borough’s open space consultant, said it’s not a certainty that the grant money – received in 2009 -- would be rescinded at the end of the year, but expressed concern over a Department of Environmental Protection policy statement opining that no community should hold onto Green Acres grant funding for more than three years.
To ensure the grant funding – which must be matched by the borough – doesn’t go to waste, the Open Space Committee has recommended council acquire three properties from willing sellers on Fair Lawn’s Open Space Resource Inventory.
The resource inventory is a Green Acres-approved set of properties that the borough has set aside to acquire for open space purposes. Only sites listed on the town’s open space resource inventory are eligible for purchase with Green Acres funding. Once purchased, the properties must be converted to green space.
Two of the prospective properties are located on Wagaraw Road near the Hawthorne border, and the third, a Dunkerhook Road house, is adjacent to the historic Naugle House.
Hakim said the borough should be within approximately $100,000 of being able to acquire all three properties from their respective owners using a combination of the $365,000 Green Acres money and an equivalent amount that has been raised through the borough’s open space tax.
However, the decision to heed the Open Space Committee’s recommendation and purchase those three properties rather than go after the flood-prone properties council had designated as buyout candidates last year, raised a serious red flag for borough manager Tom Metzler.
“There are residents who are still hoping that the borough is going to acquire their flood-damaged homes," said Metzler, referring to the 38 flood-prone properties the council sought state and federal grant funding to purchase last year.
The borough has since been denied funding by both Blue Acres and FEMA for the flood buyouts, but that hasn't kept some flood-ravaged homeowners from continuing to hold out hope that they'll be bought out by the borough.
"Some of the people who would like to be bought out are not even on the open space list," said Metzler, who's concerned that a council decision to pass over those homeowners and instead spend fleeting open space funds to acquire alternate properties – one of which (the Dunkerhook property) doesn’t even flood – could cause flood-ravaged residents to feel deceived by the borough.
"I just want you to be aware that I believe this is going to be a very hot-button item," Metzler said at last week's budget meeting.
Deputy Mayor Ed Trawinski acknowledged that the decision would be controversial, but noted that Green Acres would not let the borough use grant money for properties not listed on its open space plan.
"And the residents are not going to understand," Trawinski said.
"I don’t blame them for not understanding," Mayor Jeanne Baratta responded. "You can say to them, it’s a separate issue, because this was our Open Space and Recreation Plan and your house wasn’t on there, but they’re going to say, 'OK, so you’re going to buy these two other houses, tear them down and build a riverwalk? And yet I get flooded.'"
Theoretically, the borough could amend its open space inventory to include the additional 38 flood-prone properties, which would then also have to be approved by Green Acres.
Rather than make a decision at its budget meeting last week, council tabled the issue for a future work session.
In the mean time, a slight geographical error has complicated council's decision even further. The two available Wagaraw Road properties that the Open Space Committee had recommended council acquire are not actually available for purchase. Instead, the two properties directly east of those homes are the ones that expressed interest in selling their property to the borough.
Open Space consultant Michael Hakim said the error could potentially alter the committee's suggestion to the council to purchase those properties.