Residents generally praised Evesham Township Council this week for plans to purchase 166 acres of mostly wooded land on North Elmwood Road to preserve as open space.
But some also expressed concern at Council's Wednesday night public hearing that the town might be taking on too much debt.
The ordinance, adopted unanimously on its second reading after the hearing, provides for appropriating $5,250,000 for the purchase of the 477 North Elmwood Road property, supported through $4,987,500 in bond debt. The property is owned by the Garden State Beagle Club.
"It's just a lot of money and it's concerning," Andrew Wilson of Thornwood Drive said at the hearing. "I'm concerned that, while this appears to be well intentioned, that this type of borrowing could come back to haunt us."
Wilson said he supports the idea of adding to open space in Evesham, but added that he was surprised the Council would move forward with the purchase, particularly with the debt still being repaid on Indian Spring Country Club.
Mayor Jaclyn Veasy said the township would pursue grants from the state Green Acres program and Burlington County to reduce the debt. "Though taking on debt can be challenging, making that decision to make the investment into the township is a benefit for all of us," she said at the meeting.
Township Manager Robert Corrales said a $750,000 Green Acres grant will be applied toward the debt. He said he expects Green Acres grants will ultimately pay off one-half of the debt and county grants will cover one-quarter of the purchase cost.
"In the end run, the township would pay for a quarter of what the total price was," Corrales told Council members.
Residents of the nearby Village Greenes development were pleased the acreage will be preserved as open space, said Eugene Friedman of Sunflower Court who is a member of the Village Greenes Community Association board of trustees. The community of 325 homes off North Elmwood Road is restricted to owners 55 or older.
"We do not need any more development or traffic on Elmwood Road," Friedman told the Council. He said residents believe "North Elmwood between Evesboro-Medford Road and the Township line is developed to its maximum capacity already."
Another Village Greenes resident, Larkspur Drive's Alfred Cascarina, one of the original owners 22 years ago, said plans for a private school on the Beagle Club property were opposed by residents and the application was dropped about 20 years ago. "Thank goodness" the Council agreed with the association at the time, he said.
"We think it's a great, great thing for the entire township," Cascarina told Council members.
Ila Vassallo, of Beauport Court, a member of the township Environmental Commission, said the Beagle Club acquisition brings to fruition a plan that started in 2012. She praised the purchase, saying it will add passive recreation opportunities and preserve the land's ecological value.
Deputy Mayor Heather Cooper said details on passive recreation programs for the property will come out in the future.