Seemingly lost in all the misinformation, rumors and just plain untruths surrounding the possible future preservation of Serenity Farms (aka Gafgen Farm; aka Lavender Farm), Robbinsville Township officially renewed its lease of a portion of Block 5, Lot 1—also known as the Thompson Tract/Cubberly Property—to Tri County Turf, LLC on Dec. 9, 2022 for the next five years.
The proposed change of use was requested by the Robbinsville Township School District to allow 38 of the property’s 152.6 acres, located adjacent to the high school, to be converted into athletic fields under a lease from the Township.
On June 9, 2022, Township Council and administration heard a presentation from the district, as well as from several Robbinsville residents and others over the course of the close to two-hour hearing. After careful consideration over many months, and after reading hundreds of comments, Council and Administration believed the district had not shown a current and immediate need justifying the change of use for those 38 acres. Council formally closed out that proposed change of purpose or use via Resolution on Jan. 26.
The land will continue to be farms for a rotation of corn and soybeans by Tri County, which has leased 117 of the 152.6 acres from the Township since 2013.
In addition to the June 9 presentation, the matter also was discussed at length at the Sept. 8 Council meeting, with many residents at that well-attended meeting voicing their objections to the proposed change of use.
This is another really good example of us listening. We have said time and time again that not every plan that comes across our desks is etched in stone. We care deeply about open space. We have proven that time and time again. We also care deeply about making sure everyone’s voice is respected. Our open space, preservation, conservation, and rich farming history speaks for itself. The bottom line is you, the residents, didn’t want the change of use at the Thompson Tract. And we heard you.
We listened to every comment at those public meetings, and we read every email. If we can conserve or preserve property, we are absolutely going to do it because the truth is there are simply not that many parcels left. When they are gone, they are gone forever.
On Jan. 6, the Township distributed what we felt was a highly informative Q&A regarding recent open space questions and what it would take to get another open space question on the Nov. 2023 ballot after voters rejected the Nov. 8, 2022 ballot question asking for a 2-cent open space tax increase.
Can the Township purchase and preserve Serenity or Wittenborn farms without once again going out for referendum? The short answer is no. Putting the open space question back on the ballot in November requires 732 petition signatures of registered Robbinsville voters—or 15 percent of the votes cast locally in the last preceding general election.
The statute allows for a petition with those required number of signatures to be presented to Township Council, which would then be required to approve the new ballot question.
We will certainly keep everyone posted on any new developments. In the meantime, keep participating, keep emailing and please attend more Council meetings. Council changed its meeting times every other Thursday from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. (by request) for that very reason.
Dave Fried is the mayor of Robbinsville Township