By Jay Cook |
RUMSON – Concerned East River Road residents and borough officials have reached common ground for the immediate redevelopment of Piping Rock Memorial Park after two months of back and forth.
Rumson elected officials were looking to beef up the 4.3-acre park to include athletic space for new natural grass fields, but neighbors were afraid the park would lose its aura after plans to remove tennis courts and pedestrian flow were floated.
That tug-of-war ended peacefully with the courts staying, new fields incorporated and Piping Rock Memorial Park keeping its community feel.
“They worked overtime,” said East River Road resident Rob Thaler, who led a residents group to protect the park. “They found a way to fit everything they needed, in terms of the fields, and they soothed our concerns on the East River Road side.”
“It’s a great feeling,” added Rumson Mayor Joseph K. Hemphill. “Truly, it took a lot of work, a lot of back and forth and really listening to the people. They objected so much to losing the front (along East River Road) so coming up with this plan was like a godsend to us.”
The most visible change coming to Piping Rock Memorial Park is the installation of a 180-foot-by-360-foot multipurpose natural grass field for lacrosse, field hockey and soccer.
A 40-foot-by-60-foot softball and baseball field will also be carved out with a newly designed bump out into the parking lot along Carton Street. Borough administrator Thomas Rogers estimated the field would have a center field depth of about 280 feet.
To quell concerns from nearby homeowners and tennis players, the two tennis courts will remain.
Rogers said “more of a grand entrance” will be designed along East River Road so visitors to Piping Rock Memorial Park will walk by the existing 9/11 memorial in place there. The playground associated with the Keith D. McHeffey memorial will be moved just west of the tennis courts with brand new jungle gym equipment. However, the Keith D. McHeffey 9/11 Memorial will be relocated behind the baseball/softball field backstop at the bump out into the Carton Street parking lot.
A fully ADA-compliant walking path will stretch through the park with access to each amenity. Access will be to and from East River Road, Carton Street and Forrest Avenue.
“It’s the same exact plan, we just shifted it around in order to preserve the tennis courts,” said Rogers.
Residents in the surrounding neighborhoods mobilized after June 13 letters were sent out from the borough noticing homeowners about the impending project. Thaler and his neighbor, Christine Sibilia, helped organize a social media page called Save Piping Rock and communicated concerns to borough officials.
“I do think that if we didn’t organize and voice our opposition to the plan, I think it would have been previously approved and continued without a hitch,” added Thaler Sibilia, a New York City native and East River Road resident, said her perseverance to finding a friendly solution came from childhood memories.
“Piping Rock Memorial Park is my Central Park,” she said. “It’s certainly a conspicuous landmark to this town.”
Rogers said the project’s funding will be consistent with prior approvals. The borough unanimously approved a $900,000 payment from the capital improvement fund to pay for the park renovations; construction costs are estimated to be around $750,000. Rumson has also acquired $387,000 in grants from Monmouth County to redesign the park. The county has since approved the most recent plans.
Residents who frequent the park – which is surrounded by Ridge Road, Forrest Avenue, Carton Street and East River Road – may notice some significant soil stockpiles. Rogers said it was removed from Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School as they undergo construction around the football field. The borough purchased that soil “for pennies on the dollar” and saved $50,000 from the project cost, Rogers said. It will be used to even out the new multipurpose field.
A contract could be awarded at the Aug. 21 Borough Council meeting, set for a special time at 4:30 p.m. The idea is to have construction start before Labor Day.
The park’s new setup is expected to accommodate the approximately 3,800 children in Rumson’s recreation program. Athletic tournaments and mass busing into and out of Piping Rock Memorial Park is not anticipated in the future.
“Ideally, all the residents would have liked to keep Piping Rock Memorial Park the way it is, but something had to be done due to the recreation needs,” said Thaler. “With that said, this looks to be the best solution we could have hoped for.”
This article first appeared in the August 16 – 23, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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