Cherry Hill plans to preserve Holly Ravine farm property as open space

Cherry Hill township would buy and preserve the beloved Holly Ravine farm site as open space under a proposal announced Monday.

Township council president and mayoral candidate David Fleisher said Cherry Hill has reached an “agreement in principle” to buy the 23-acre property at Springdale and Evesham Roads from the family that has owned it for nearly a century.

“Our family appreciates the special place that Holly Ravine Farm and the Cowtail Bar hold in so many people’s childhood memories,” said owner Robert Gilmour, who grew up working on the farm. “We are thrilled that the property will be saved and remain as open space for generations to come.”

On June 1, the township zoning board unanimously rejected the proposed development of a senior living complex at Holly Ravine, due in part to concerns about the impact on traffic in an already congested area.

Cherry Hill “has the financial strength” to buy the farm, said Fleisher, who is heading the negotiations, but he did not provide details on how much it would cost or where the money would come from. State and Camden County funding “for critical preservation projects like Holly Ravine Farm” are being pursued as well, he said.

Acquisition of the land would need township council approval.

Active farming and sale of locally made ice cream at the Cowtail ceased decades ago, but the potential loss of a verdant stretch of ground in a suburb where agriculture long ago gave way to strip malls led some Cherry Hill residents to organize against the senior housing proposal.

» READ MORE: Cherry Hill residents are pushing back on a plan to develop the last patch of Holly Ravine Farm into a senior living community

The loss of other local landmarks such as the Cherry Hill Diner, which closed in April after 50 years in operation, also fueled opposition.

“Cherry Hill was largely an agrarian community, and we have seen over the years our last remaining pieces of open space and farmland being gobbled up,” said Eric Ascalon, a former land use attorney who was among the leaders of the opposition.

“This is an example of what other communities in South Jersey can do to prevent the sort of redevelopment we have been made to feel is inevitable,” he said.

Jason Howell, the public lands advocate for the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, said local open spaces augment major tracts of public land such as the Pinelands National Reserve.

“We also need little pieces of nature where people can introduce themselves to the outdoors,” he said. “Little slices of open space” such as Holly Ravine can serve as “ambassadors to nature” to residents of densely populated suburbs, he said.

Reaction on the Save Holly Ravine Farm page on Facebook on Monday was largely positive. But skeptics questioned the potential acquisition cost while others wondered why the public wasn’t given a chance to be more involved in a process that likely will involve spending public money.

In the statement, Fleisher called the announcement “a great day for Cherry Hill.” He also noted several other recent or ongoing efforts to preserve or create open space in the township, including the Kingston Swim Club property. The club closed in 2020 and was demolished earlier this year.

Read More:Cherry Hill plans to preserve Holly Ravine farm property as open space

2023-09-18 20:39:56

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