Story and photos by Jay Cook
HOLMDEL – The issue for and against a turf field complex in the township has now reached the end of regulation.
On Feb. 16, the Holmdel Township Committee voted 4-1 to repeal Bond Ordinance 2016-13 – a $3.3 million bond for the creation of two synthetic turf fields at Cross Farm Park. The decision marks a complete 180 from when Holmdel officials unanimously approved the bond in September of last year.
Also taken off the table was a township-wide referendum for the project in November’s general election. Signatures gathered by concerned homeowners around Labor Day weekend had forced the township to consider a vote.
“Quite honestly, I did not do my due diligence last year,” Deputy Mayor Patrick Impreveduto admitted to residents in the jam-packed municipal hall. “I’ll be very honest with you.”
Impreveduto, Mayor Gregory Buontempo, Committeeman Michael Nikolis and Committeeman Thomas Critelli all voted ‘yes’ to repeal the bond. Committeeman Eric Hinds, who was mayor during the project’s inception last summer, accounted for the only ‘nay’ vote.
Hinds called the past few months a “tremendous learning experience,” and also said that the referendum, even if nullified, could help Holmdel.
“At this point, it would be invaluable to actually see it go to vote and gather the data,” he said. “I’d just like to see how many people vote ‘yes’ and vote ‘no,’ just for our own benefit.”
Initially adopted on Sept. 6, the $3.3 million bond ordinance stated that two collegiate-sized synthetic turf fields would be built behind two existing baseball fields on the back end of Cross Farm Park, which has over 80 acres of land for recreational fields off Longbridge Road. It is located next to the county’s Thompson Park.
Also included in the project was four-foot-high fencing around the fields, with room for it to be higher behind the goals, small bleachers between four and five rows high, and the construction of an additional gravel parking lot, which would service the new fields. Approximately 250 new parking spaces would have been added.
Since its announcement last summer, the turf field issue has led to testy conversations and arguments at town hall, almost factious at times.
“We’ve got two sides of the issue here to deal with and the most difficult part for me is how the residents have really gone up against each other,” Critelli said before casting his vote.
Those against the project sided with Preserve Holmdel, a citizens’ action group that gathered hundreds of signatures in opposition to the turf fields. Led by Cathy Weber, the group felt a sense of acknowledgement from the township committee.
“I just want to say thank you for considering repealing this ordinance and for catching your breath to do a more comprehensive plan,” said Weber, during the meeting.
Many residents also worried about the close proximity of the turf fields to numerous streams and water sources, most notably the Swimming River.
Supporting the project were the pro-recreation folks in town, who are connected to the numerous scholastic and travel teams that call Holmdel home, notably soccer and lacrosse.
“If the residents that are in favor of this had 750 signatures saying we would like to go forward, why can’t we go forward with referendum?” questioned Terri Ferguson, one of the first to speak up in the public hearing session.
While the Cross Farm Park proposal is now finished for the time being, another development occured at the meeting. Right after the initial roll call, Impreveduto petitioned for the passage of an ordinance asking for residents from all walks of life in Holmdel to join a new recreation committee.
This would be an ad hoc committee, which is a collection of people aiming to serve a single purpose. For this group, its mission would be to study Holmdel’s recreational situation and find the best site in town for a new recreational facility, using a five-year strategic plan.
“We need to come up with a plan to make sure that everyone’s taken care of,” Impreveduto said.
Potential sites for the new recreational facility will be considered in the coming months, but the township committee hinted to an early frontrunner. The deputy mayor said the Holmdel Board of Education (BOE) was slated to make a presentation for a new complex at a school location, though board representatives did not attend the meeting.
The Holmdel BOE is on the cusp of presenting its “2020 Initiative,” which is going to look at all school sites and see what improvements can be made across the board. By a resolution passed on Dec. 14 of last year, the 2020 Initiative must have had a committee report presented by Feb. 22. That date has since been pushed back to March 1.
It seemed that the majority of residents in attendance applauded the township committee for taking a step back after their gung-ho push on the Cross Farm Park proposal. Impreveduto said that either a request for proposal (RFP) or a request for quotation (RFQ) would be announced on the township’s website this week, looking for members and firms to guide the group through this process.
Township administrator Donna Vieiro said the smart play would be to use the current township engineer, T&M Associates.
“T&M is a national firm, and they have staff around the country that does this type of work,” she said. “So rather than spend $100,000, I would like to try to do this in-house if we can.”
Residents then echoed concerns over conflicts of interest by having a township-chosen firm leading the work for an administration that is so pro-recreation.
“I think we need somebody from outside of Holmdel to guide the committee,” said Barbara Singer, a democrat in town planning to run for reelection in November. “That way, they can help mediate when it comes to prioritizing the items the ad hoc committee wants to get done.”
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