Voorhees purchasing land for $3.3 million to preserve as a park
The 50-acre acquisition is the township's first open-space deal. An asphalt company once was located on the site.
By Will Van Sant
INQUIRER SUBURBAN STAFF
VOORHEES - After years of effort, and to the delight of residents longing for sunny days in grassy fields, this densely developed township is about to make its first open-space purchase.
Officials expect to complete their acquisition of 50 acres at 605 Centennial Blvd., once home to Lafferty Asphalt Co., on April 18 for about $3.3 million.
Plans call for turning most of the abandoned tract, home to hulking industrial buildings as well as woodlands and fields, into a park.
"I'm ecstatic," Mayor Harry Platt said. "It's a place where people can go to have a community experience. It will be wonderful."
The purchase ensures an oasis of green in a town that has grown rapidly for 30 years.
In 1970, Voorhees had 6,400 residents. At White Horse Road and Route 561 was a house with a two-horse barn, and that was all. Cooper Road was dirt, and where it intersected with Evesham Road were fields. Farms and apple orchards graced the landscape.
Today the township is 90 percent developed. With a population of 28,000, it is, the mayor said, "exploding at the seams."
Platt called the purchase and park plan "absolutely vital" to the future of the township.
The purchase is being funded with $750,000 from the county, $500,000 from the state Department of Environmental Protection's Green Acres program, and $500,000 from the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit group that provides money to preserve open space.
The township will pay $802,000 from its open-space fund toward purchase of the 45 acres being set aside for the park. The township also will pay $736,000, raised through a bond issue not associated with open-space funds, to purchase five adjacent acres for a yet-to-be-determined municipal function, Platt said.
The park has not been designed, and no date has been set to complete it, he said. An excavation pit on 15 acres, however, is to be filled in and grass planted, providing a place for picnickers and kite flyers to frolic, Platt said.
"I am thrilled," said Lori Volpe, president of the Voorhees Environmental and Recreational Alliance. "It's been a long haul."
When her organization began advocating for open space in Voorhees several years ago, Volpe said, the effort drew laughter and cynicism. Land was too valuable, people said, and developers were too powerful.
"I never thought I would see this," she said. "We started from a bleak situation where there was no hope and did a lot of educating."
Volpe credited the persistence of residents, public officials, and particularly the township Environmental Commission.
"It has taken years to get to the point of cutting the ribbon," said Debby Schwartz, the commission's chairwoman. She said building the coalitions needed for open-space projects could be a complex and arduous task.
"We just hope it's the beginning of several more to come," Schwartz said.
The purchase, Platt said, is the first step in a broader initiative to ensure open space for residents to enjoy.
"We hope to have more of these," he said.