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Commissioners Expand Open Space Funding to Include Recreational Uses

Post Date:01/14/2021 9:22 AM

SOMERVILLE – The Somerset County Board of County Commissioners voted Tuesday to expand an Open Space program to include funding for active and passive municipal recreational spaces such as athletic fields, parks, picnic areas, trails, exercise paths, and more. The goal is to continue large property acquisition and farmland preservation whenever possible, but to ensure Open Space funding is also offered to communities without large available tracts of land.

“Open recreational spaces are vital to the health of any community, and of its residents,” said Commissioner Melonie Marano, liaison to the Somerset County Open Space Advisory Committee (OSAC). “The County Commissioners are committed to expanding open spaces for residents in every town, including those that are more densely populated and developed.”

The program expanded this week was created in 2008 to help towns build artificial turf athletic fields for youth and adult recreation, and was utilized by six municipalities: Bernardsville, Green Brook, Manville, North Plainfield, Somerville and South Bound Brook. Turf field grants were and are limited to $1 million grants with a thirty percent match, but other recreational open space grants are not limited. Municipalities are expected to provide some funding of their own, and to manage the project from start to completion.

“We’ve heard from a number of municipalities that they have recreational space projects in the works where the only thing holding it up is funding,” said Commissioner Paul Drake, liaison to the Somerset County Park Commission. “Open space funding is not just important to control over-development, but also to ensure residents have the opportunities to enjoy open space near where they live and work. This expansion of our Open Space funding program helps many towns achieve that goal.”

Acceptable projects can include the construction of new facilities or amenities, parking and buildings ancillary to but necessary to recreational or conservation use, and repair or reconstruction of existing recreational spaces.

Communities interested in funding under this program must have a “shovel-ready” project with estimated costs to propose, and request the funding in writing to the OSAC. If the Committee determines an application is viable, the municipality will be asked to provide a presentation to the committee. Applications can be made at any time during the year as municipalities are ready.

If the committee views the applications favorably, they will send a recommendation to the Somerset County Board of County Commissioners for a final determination. Once a project is approved, funding will be provided to the municipality with requests for periodic status reports.

In total, Somerset County has preserved more than 14,800 acres of open space.

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Walking and biking trails are among the types of municipal projects that could be funded with Somerset County Open Space Funding under the new program.

 

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