BY TOM HESTER SR.
Gov. Chris Christie Thursday announced a $27 million plan to convert approximately 165 acres of the original Greystone Psychiatric Hospital property in Parsippany, Morris County, to open space parkland.
The original state-run Greystone psychiatric hospital closed after 132-years of operation in 2008. The modern replacement hospital facility that opened in 2007 will remain in operation.
The plan calls for the demolition of dilapidated buildings, environmental remediation, and the conversion of the acreage to open space, operated by the Morris County park system.
The property also contains a sewage treatment plant and wetlands. In 2002, 300 acres were turned over to Morris County for use as open space.
An integral part of the plan calls for determining the feasibility of redeveloping the historic Kirkbride Building, the old hospital’s main structure. The study will determine if there are any economically self-sustaining uses for the building and incorporate those findings into the final implementation plan for Greystone.
"My administration is committed to implementing a plan that finally provides a responsible resolution for the future of the shuttered facilities at Greystone Park and the property they sit on,” Christie said. “By doing so, we are fulfilling the state’s obligation to clean up this dormant site in an environmentally and fiscally sound manner.
"When the state closes a facility, it has a responsibility to clean up after itself,” the governor said. “As the state has done with brownfields and other dormant or contaminated sites around the state, this plan for Greystone continues our commitment to convert these types of sites to productive public uses with a sustainable approach that includes site demolition, environmental remediation, and its transition to open space for the recreational benefit of our residents."
“After seeing the Greystone Park site in person, it was clear to me that we must finish the job of turning the site into one that could be used and enjoyed by the public,” state Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff said. “Under Governor Christie’s plan, we are able to meet that obligation at Greystone in a manner that is both fiscally responsible and that continues the Administration’s progress in expanding open space resources for New Jerseyans to utilize.”
To achieve the plan, Requests For Proposal (RFP) for environmental and design consultant services will be issued to perform an engineering and environmental assessment for work at the site throughout 2012. Subsequent RFPs will then be issued to implement the recommendations on the required remediation and demolition work throughout 2013.
"We are working diligently and taking creative approaches across our state to clean up and restore abandoned and contaminated sites, like the Greystone property, for new and beneficial uses for our communities and residents,” state Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin said. “We want to take currently unused assets and turn them into open spaces and parks for the community.”
In partnership with Morris County, financing for the project will be provided through bonds available through the state Economic Development Authority, including redevelopment bonds, and open space funding. The state will retain ownership of the site until the bonds are retired.
Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-Morris) said he is pleased to learn of the plan.
“This site has been idle for years, slowly decaying, and posing a danger to the surrounding communities,” the senator said. “The new plan calls for the state to cleanup contamination, demolish the buildings and convert the space to open space parkland in Morris County. Upon completion the site will be transferred to the Morris County Park system. This site has been a White Elephant for many years. Its cleanup and return to usefulness is very good news for both the county and the state. Coupled with the original 300 acres deeded to Morris County this will create a more than 400 acre oasis for current and future generations to enjoy.”
New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel charged that in announcing the plan for Greystone, Christie is looking for “green cover” a day after unveiling his plan to “undermine public access to state parks through privatization.”
“Under Governor Christie open space preservation monies are declining,” Tittel said. “Green Acres funding is down about a 50 percent from three years ago. Around $90 million will go to the program now versus $250 million in 20040-5. The Garden State Preservation Trust which averaged $235 million a year from 1998 - 2008 is now averaging about $130 million a year under Governor Christie.
“The governor has not released any of the funds from the 2009 bond act,” Tittel added. “The Blue Acres Program, to buy out flood prone properties, also lacks funding under Governor Christie. There is only about $12 million left at the state level and this funding only goes to a few areas of New Jersey, not state wide. The SADC just announced there are not going to take any new applications for farmland preservation until next year because of funding concerns. The governor has cut funding for our parks and preserved open spaces to an all-time low. Park funding is down 30 percent from two years ago. Park staffing continues to drop despite the state’s growing open space roster and the need to steward more public land.”