Conservation Zones and Easements

What are the Lessons from this Conservation Battle?
Despite the long-range planning of state, county, and municipalities, the Tourne Valley was threatened.  The threat did not come from developers – it came from another government agency that wished to use the land for its own purposes.

The case of the Tourne Valley was thus one of the people versus the people.  A natural area of parkland was desired by two government agencies.  Had the people set aside parkland so it would be available for public destruction?  The precedent would have been far-reaching.  No municipal official would ever again be willing to purchase open space if it could snapped up later by official bodies looking for cheap sites.

Luckily, a small group of dedicated people rose up to confront the government.  They persevered and won.  We have them to thank that the Tourne is available to us today.  But in a larger sense, we owe them thanks for showing us once again that individuals canmake a difference.

The First Conservation Easements
In 1985 the Borough began putting conservation easements on environmentally sensitive public park lots.  In 2004, the Borough amended the ordinance to add more public land to those lots previously set aside. Other easements have been placed on some private property to protect natural features.  These easements allow the Borough to protect stream corridors and flood prone areas without the cost of outright purchase at today’s high costs.  A list of environmental easements can be found in the appendix of the same name.

The First Conservation Zones
The Borough’s first conservation zone was created in 1988 when the governing body realized that while the municipality owned substantial tracts of land, the park land actually remained in residential zoning. The principal land use permitted in the conservation zone ordinance was “conservation of natural environment, and recreational activities such as footpaths or playing fields which do not destroy the natural topography and which are consistent with conservation purposes.”

In 2002 Council further amended this Conservation ordinance to split conservation land into two different uses.  The overall purpose remained to protect “potential groundwater resources, erosion-prone soils, ecologically important wetlands and woodlands which provide environmental and aesthetic benefits.”   However, the new amendment refined the uses into “strict preservation” or “active recreation” zones.  A C-1 zone permits “recreational uses that involve limited disturbance to the natural environment” including passive recreational activities such as hiking, jogging, fishing, cross-country skiing, etc. A C-2 zone permits more active recreation such as playgrounds, tennis courts, athletic fields and other “active” recreational activities.  Since the activity allowed in C-2 involves additional noise and disturbance of topography, this zone also requires a 100’ vegetative buffer from the edge of disturbance to contiguous residential properties.

While more than one-third of the landmass of the Borough is in open space, there are substantial larger tracts of woodlands which fall into the passive category (C-1).  These include the Richard M. Wilcox Park (154 acres around Birchwood Lake), sections of Halsey A. Frederick Park (64 acres) along Morris Avenue between Powerville and Fanny Roads, the land behind Midvale Park, the Thorleif Fliflet Bird Sanctuary on Lake Drive, the land between the end of Maple Way and the railroad tracks, and the land bordered by Overlook Road, Tower Hill Road and the Boulevard.  This latter plot contains the Tower Hill Sled Run.

Smaller lots dedicated to specific activities include:  The Frank B. Kaufmann Park on the site of the old Borough Hall at the Boulevard and Briarcliff Road, Memorial Park on Lake Drive, the Esplanade off Morris Avenue overlooking the railroad station, Briarcliff Park on Wildwood Lake at the intersection of Briarcliff Road and the Canal, and the previously mentioned Bird Sanctuary on Lake Drive.

In addition to the woodland parks mentioned, there are a number of unnamed “vestpocket” parks in the Borough. These small lots serve to provide breaks between developed areas affording residents on either side a visual privacy screen of shade trees and natural vegetation.