Decades ago, Signal Mountain built its present town hall complex – and then found out it didn’t have enough money to pay for it, the town’s vice mayor said Monday evening. In order to raise the funding, Susan Robertson told the crowd attending the regular monthly council meeting, members of that long-ago city council sold the site on which the old fire department had sat and other land which had been given to the town for public enjoyment.
To prevent that kind of misuse of public lands from occurring again, the town is considering joining the nationwide trend in which municipalities enter into agreements with land trusts to hold conservation easement on public lands.
Toward that end, council members were scheduled to vote Monday evening on whether to authorize the town’s mayor and city manager to meet with representatives of the Land Trust For Tennessee and discuss the development of conservation easement agreements for Rainbow Lake, Green Gorge and nine other town parks.
The council postponed action on that resolution, however, after a small but very vocal group of residents argued that – while everyone agrees that public lands should be protected – it would be “arrogant” for current council members to “tie the hands” of future town leaders and residents in such matters.
A far better option, the dissidents said, would be to create a land protection ordinance similar to those used by towns such as Mountain Lakes, N.J., which have used them to protect green spaces for decades.
Located in northern New Jersey, Mountain Lakes – a planned community – was the brainchild of land developer Herbert J. Hapgood, who promised jaded New Yorkers in the early 1900s that it would be a “forest primeval . . . (with) pure dry air . . . no malaria . . . (and) a high-class, restricted community of refined people” that was less than a hour away from Manhattan.
“The overall development concept was to create an ‘ideal planned community’ centered around man-made lakes,” according to the borough’s current land use plan.
“The lakes not only formed the focus for the design and the future life of the community but also fundamentally influenced the layout for the roads and surrounding neighborhoods. Planned as a residential park community . . . Mountain Lakes was developed with a pattern that deliberately set out to create a park-like atmosphere with man-made lakes, unspoiled natural brooks and improvements such as roads and houses placed within the natural contours of the landscape.”
“Partly as a result of the original concept and partly a result of good fortune, large areas of the Borough were preserved from development,” the land use plan explains. “These open space areas are located throughout the Borough and contribute substantially to the park-like atmosphere. On the other hand, most neighborhoods are relatively high density compared to other communities in Morris County. The combination of large areas of open space and relatively high density neighborhoods has a net result of essentially a very large cluster development with houses on relatively small lots but compensated for by substantial open space areas.
"This planned community pattern is important and fundamental to the characteristic of Mountain Lakes and should be preserved.”
Mountain Lakes was incorporated as a borough by an act of the New Jersey Legislature on March 3, 1924.