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Parks or Homes? City to Weigh Options


One of the last expanses of undeveloped, open space in the city has pitted eager developers with plans for a 190-home gated community against those who want to preserve at least some of the land for parks.

Stepping into the fray, the city now is considering whether to buy some, or all, of the 117-acre parcel in East Orange. This land could be used for playing fields and recreational spaces rather than for more homes, some residents argue. A recent study found the city needs 182 acres of additional parkland to meet the growing demand of youth sports.

The Parks Acquisition Committee will meet next week to decide whether the city should appraise the privately owned land to determine what it would cost to purchase it, committee member Shirley Grindle said. The land is now in escrow, but the city wants to be prepared in case it becomes available.

"This is about the last piece of property we have," Grindle said. "To let this go by without at least considering our options would be a foolish thing for the city to do."

Fieldstone Communities Inc. has opened escrow on the land and would like to build nearly 200 single-family homes, a three-acre park and possibly a community center. The seven acres on which the Orange Park Acres equestrian arena sits will not be touched under an agreement forged with that homeowners association, Fieldstone President Frank Foster said.

So far, the company has submitted only tentative development plans to Orange. The project's approval hinges on the City Council agreeing to rezone the land from open space to residential.

A preliminary report studying the project's environmental impact may be available within the next several weeks, Foster said.


In the meantime, the city is working with Fieldstone to squeeze as much open space as possible from the project, city planner John Godlewski said.

But Foster questions the practicality of the city using that land for playing fields.

"From our standpoint, we don't agree with that," he said. "The use of that particular property for active parkland is very problematic."

For one, the land, a former sand and gravel pit, will require an enormous amount of grading to smooth out rough patches. Though Fieldstone Communities is willing to dish out big dollars for a large return, the city may not find it feasible to pay such costs for a not-for-profit venture, Foster pointed out.

Also, the land's location in easternmost Orange may not benefit the entire city, he said.

Still, some residents contend the city needs to explore its options before checking off on the proposal.

"Before any development takes place, we need to see if there's a way to make park space," said Carter James, president of the Orange Junior Soccer League.

The league's roughly 2,000 players often use softball outfields as practice areas because lighted park space is stretched so thin. Most teams have been reduced to practicing only once a week, James said.

According to the park study, the city needs 44 additional soccer fields to keep up with the demand. The 117 acres in East Orange, James said, may be a place to start. "We need to take a close look at it," he said.


Renee Moilanen can be reached at (714) 966-4674.

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