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The Jackson Township Council, run by a majority team of Council President Martin Flemming and his supporters Vice President Stephen Chisholm, and Councilman Nino Borrelli, tonight denied endorsement of Mayor Mike Reina's proposal for establishment of an Open Space Committee. However, the Council did vote to advance Reina's proposed land swap with Mordechai Eichorn.

The establishment of an Open Space Committee was a campaign promise made by Mayor Mike Reina, in order to curb over-development.

Reina realized that his efforts to buy land once it landed in the hands of developers was quite difficult as developers often overpay for the value of the land, and the Township is unable to pay above the appraisal amount to buy the land.

To combat this issue, during his campaign, Reina stressed "there is only one lawsuit proof way to stop development in its tracks and that is if we can get the land before the developers do... We will form an Open Space Committee to include a representative from the Administration, Council and members of the public. The sole responsibility of the Committee will be to identify large parcels of land for acquisition BEFORE developers even know that they exist."

Reina also added "The current Jackson Township Council's insistence on buying only open space that it can pay cash for prevents us from competing against big developers. There are WAY too many missed opportunities to ever honor the spirit of the agreement that the Township made when it asked residents for an Open Space Trust Fund tax.

"Our plan will utilize our bonding authority to allow minimal upfront expenditures and maximize the nearly $2 million collected annually through the Township's open space tax. By doing so we increase our buying power 10X-20X which will allow us to compete with developers."

Reina drafted an Ordinance establishing the Open Space Committee which was to be comprised of 9 members, to be appointed annually to a term of one year:
• one member of the Township Council, appointed by the Township Council
• one member of the Administration, appointed by the Mayor
• The Mayor or a Mayor's representative
• Six citizens of Jackson Township appointed by the Mayor

The Duties and Responsibilities of the Committee we're to include locating the properties and recommending them to the Township Administration for acquisition. No member of the Committee would be permitted, on their own, to contact a property owner as to the potential purchase of said property without written approval of the Township's Business Administration.

Ultimately, Council President Martin Flemming and his supporters Vice President Stephen Chisholm, and Councilman Nino Borrelli voted against the proposal, saying that they disliked giving the mayor full authority to appoint a majority of members of the Committee, and that, as "the elected representatives" they felt they should have more say in who is appointed to this Committee.

At the same time, despite previously appearing to push back against Reina's proposal for a land swap, the Council tonight unanimously voted to endorse and advance that proposal.

Back in October, as previously reported here on FAA News, the Jackson Planning Board heard testimony on a proposal an application submitted by Bellevue Estates, LLC, which is owned by Lakewood resident Mordechai Eichorn, to build 4 schools on a 30-acre parcel of land at 443 Leesville Road between Burke and Diamond Road.

Thereafter, as previously reported here on FAA News, Mayor Reina broke the news that in order "to protect existing neighborhoods within Jackson Township and to protect and honor the rights of all Jackson residents", he "successfully negotiated to acquire Eichorn's farm [to keep it for open space]."

At a "town hall" Reina subsequently hosted for residents in the Leesville area, he clarified that the acquisition would be in the form of a land swap for Township owned land near the Lakewood Cross Street border, and that the swap requires and awaits approval from the Township Council.

Just days ago, Mayor Reina announced that "negotiations between Jackson Township and Bellevue Estates regarding a land swap agreement have concluded successfully and an ordinance authorizing the same has been prepared and presented to the Jackson Township Council for introduction."

“Back in October I announced that the Township had reached an agreement in principle to swap equal valued properties with the developer of Bellevue Estates.  This ordinance authorizes that land swap and I look forward to signing it once Council approves it” said Mayor Reina.

Up until tonight, it appeared that the Township Council, led by Council President (and adversary to Reina) Martin Flemming, was pushing back against the land swap proposal as the proposed Ordinance was not previously placed on tonight's agenda.

However, the Council tonight changed course and voted to approve the land swap.

Tonight's vote is only a first reading on the Ordinance. The Township Council has scheduled a final reading for February 14, 2023.

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