Community pauses development to create green space

Just off the main road in the bustling downtown of Bloomfield, an abandoned brownfield is transforming into a greenfield. The project, called Lion Gate Municipal Complex, took 19 years to get off the ground, says Greg Remaud of the NY/NJ Baykeeper.

“It’s really a next generation of green infrastructure and resiliency,” Remaud said.

Remaud says this grassroots effort came from community members who wanted to turn the vacant Scientific Glass Factory into a space that would solve the flooding problem in the area.

“Instead of taking a brownfield, and just building on it, and exacerbating the existing flooding and losing even more open space in this densely populated urban area, they purchased the property, are restoring natural wetlands, where the storm water is all captured, so it doesn’t flood into the neighborhoods,” Remaud said. “So you’re really addressing a whole host of environmental and urban land use issues in one project.”

“Back in 2014, it was set to be 200 town homes, and the township came in at last minute, and we agreed on a purchase price,” said Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia.

Venezia has been in office for six of the 19 years and says he quickly realized the benefit of preserving the land.

“Any time you have a chance for open space, as a mayor and the township, we want it. You know, we’re a dense community as it is. We’re about 97% developed. So we felt that this was one of the last large areas of open space that the township can have,” he said.

Redevelopment has been the theme in Bloomfield of late, with the downtown, undergoing a transformation. But years ago, when the open space project was first presented, it was an uphill battle, says Councilman Nick Joanow.

“At the time in early 2000, we were viewed as treehuggers. We were viewed as river rats. We were just rubbing against the grind where development was the way to save us,” Joanow said.

He’s not anti-development, but says it works best when  coupled with a holistic approach.

“The many of us who came together, looked ahead and saw the bigger picture. That open space, habitat, flood prevention was certainly where we needed to be going forward into the future,” he said.

“The homeowners in that area pay for flood insurance. So we’re hoping with this new wetlands mitigation portion of it, and the 10 million gallons of water that’s going to be preserved, that we’re going to go to FEMA and ask them to redraw the maps. And hopefully our homeowners aren’t going to be paying flood insurance in that area anymore,” Venezia said.

Venezia said the 19 acres will include a much needed new soccer field, a playground and an environmental center that’ll be open to the public.

You’re going to have nature paths where you can go bird watching and walk along the creek. You’re going to have butterfly gardens. So there’s something for everybody in this project. It’ll be a green wonderland,” Remaud said.

The first phase of the project is expected to be completed in September. Phase two will include the environmental center which the mayor hopes can be an educational tool for this town.

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