The 23-acre historic farm will be preserved as passive-use open space. Cherry Hill Council President David Fleischer says the township will seek state aid to offset its purchase of the property.
By Matt Skoufalos | September 18, 2023
Just a few months after rejecting a plan that would have constructed a 175-unit senior living facility there, the Cherry Hill municipal government struck a deal to preserve the 23-acre Holly Ravine Farm as open space.
Cherry Hill Council President David Fleischer said he’s been working to broker an agreement with the Gilmour family, historic owners of the property, since the redevelopment deal was struck down.
Monday’s announcement of an agreement in principle to preserve the property will be followed by a finalized agreement of sale that Fleischer expects will be presented to the township council at its September 26 meeting.
At that time, the purchase price will also be disclosed, which Fleischer said “will be consistent with current appraisals of the land.”
The council president said that Holly Ravine will be preserved as open space, and that no specific use of the property has been determined yet. Any conditional use of the property would only be “passive and low-impact,” he said, and could be restricted if state or county preservation funds are used to offset its purchase.
“The property will definitely be preserved as open space; the exact passive use will still be determined,” he said. “Everything is on the table.”
Fleischer said he is confident that Cherry Hill “will be able to obtain funding from one or more of the government entities” that manages open-space preservation, whether it be Green Acres funding from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), Farmland Preservation dollars from the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, or the Camden County Open Space, Recreation, Farmland, and Historic Preservation Trust Fund.
Each funding source obligates its recipients to certain environmental restrictions for the lands it’s used to purchase — a consideration still being played out up the road from Holly Ravine in the NJDEP evaluation of the Stafford Woods disc golf course in neighboring Voorhees.
“The township has the financial strength to buy it outright, but we will be pursuing additional funding sources from the county and the state as we speak,” Fleischer said.
“We intend on pursuing every one of them, but knowing that we need to comply in order to receive any of the funding.
“This is 23 acres of a beautiful property that we’ll be able to preserve, and in the days ahead, get input from the community regarding potential uses,” he said.
“We’re thrilled to be able to have an agreement in principle with something enabling all the parties to be treated fairly, and the family’s legacy of having the property maintained as open space.”
In a statement accompanying a press release from the township, Robert Gilmour said that his family is pleased that their property will be preserved for future visitors to enjoy:
“My family appreciates the special place that Holly Ravine Farm and the Cowtail Bar hold in so many people’s childhood memories. Growing up and working on the farm for most of my life, I know what a special place it is. We are thrilled that the property will be saved and remain as open space for generations to come.”
Jeff Lucas of Rose Real Estate, who said he’d been working on a sale of the Holly Ravine Farm property for four years, said both “the buyer and seller are very happy,” and that the preservation deal could close sooner than a redevelopment proposal would have.
“The owners are very happy to see the property preserved,” Lucas said. “Most of our land sales to developers are all subject to approval; this is subject to council approval, so it can happen much sooner.”
Fleischer said he expects the deal to be finalized no later than the end of January 2024, if not earlier.
Frank Haas, a Cherry Hill resident of 30 years, and one of the original citizen objectors to the senior living redevelopment proposal from Caddis Acqusition Partners, said he was glad to hear the property is being preserved as open space.
“It’s what should have been done all along,” Haas said. “It’s much better that the farm is preserved as open space than as senior housing.”
Haas said he was concerned that the redevelopment project would have contributed to traffic congestion and “created a more hazardous situation” for commuters on the heavily traveled Evesham and Springdale Roads, which intersect near the 23-acre parcel.
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