Lawrence Township officially owns the Colonial Lake property. Now comes the process of planning how the property will be improved.

The township closed on the 5.9-acre property on July 17, completing a process that has been more than two and half years in the making.

Colonial Lake in Lawrence Township. (Staff photo by Bill Sanservino.)

The tract was purchased from Sheft Associates Inc. for $3.65 million. Funding was provided through several sources, including $1.47 million from the Lawrence Township Open Space, $1.47 in grants from the Mercer County Open Space Assistance Program and $711,133 from the state’s Green Acres Program.

The purchase agreement was structured to allow the township to pay $1 million of the purchase price through two annual payments of $500,000—in July 2021 and July 2022, said a township news release.

By spreading the payments over the next two years, the township can apply for more grant funding in those years for the project and preserve its Open Space Fund for other projects.

“We are extremely grateful to our grant partners that helped make this acquisition possible on behalf of our community, said Mayor James Kownacki. “Colonial Lake Park has been a treasured destination for our residents and, with this additional land, we have a great opportunity to improve the park experience and we are committed to doing so.”

The purchase will preserve the land—located at 2420 Brunswick Pike, just southwest of Colonial Lake Drive—and stop the proposed development of an extended-stay hotel on the site.

The plan to construct a three-story, 52,902-square-foot Woodspring Suites hotel was met with opposition from many Lawrence residents. The Friends of Colonial Lake Facebook page now has more than 1,500 members, and a Change.org site garnered more than 5,300 signatures on a petition to stop the hotel project.

“The township’s closing on the Sheft property puts the finishing touch on saving Colonial Lake Park from incursion of commercial development and is great and welcome news for the people of Lawrence Township and the surrounding area,” said Jim Hooker, president of Friends of Colonial Lake.

“What we did by acquiring this particular piece of land was to basically stop it from being developed by a motel or a hotel chain, and that’s great,” said municipal manager Kevin Nerwinski in an interview with the Gazette earlier this year. “The residents really spoke out. I was very much a proponent of acquiring this piece of property to preserve the lake.”

The property has been subdivided to allow for the continued operation of Colonial Bowling & Entertainment, the township officials said in its statement. The agreement also includes the township’s right of first refusal to acquire the remaining lot should Sheft Associates decide to sell in the future.

Nerwinski said that planning for what to do with the property would begin after the closing took place. “At that point, that’s when the fun begins with the planning of its improvements, so it becomes an even more appealing destination for our residents to enjoy,” he said.

“It’s a lot of money, and to me—and our elected officials are on board with this—it would not be a prudent investment if we were to just buy the land and leave it exactly as it is,” Nerwinski said. “It’s an opportunity, once we acquire this property, to tap into other grant monies to improve it.”

The township is looking at creating a trail around the lake and building a pedestrian walk over the lake so that people can walk the trail without having to go on Route 1 to get over to the other side. Other considerations include amenities like picnic tables that would help allow for passive recreation.

Nerwinski said that after closing, the township would start the planning process and probably have some type of “community conversations about what we intend to do.”

“There’s not going to be any disruption of land,” Nerwinski said. “There’s not going to be any building there. It’s going to be very much preserving its natural character and hopefully improving it so more people use it.”