Includes kayak launch, boardwalk, trails and a playground |
By John Burton |
RED BANK —When it comes to the debate over a proposed park on the borough’s West Side, “There’s a lot of passion on both sides,” said Charles Hoffmann, director of the borough Parks and Recreation Department.
And those passions were on display Monday evening as the borough engineers associated with the park project offered a concept plan and were met with those voicing strong opinions – both for and against the plan.
Borough residents and parents from both sides of the community offered their views. Many expressed fear of what a large park would mean for traffic, quality of life and public health by disrupting an extensively contaminated site. Others felt the West Side has for too long lacked recreational opportunities, forcing children to challenge traffic to make their way to any available parks.
“Nothing is set in stone,” Hoffman told the audience in attendance on Monday, referring to the possible future park on the borough’s former landfill and incinerator site. Christine Ballard, the T&M Associates engineer working on this project, said a concept plan was needed to formulate plans to work with state officials to clean up the site’s contamination and to seek out funding sources.
The concept plan was drafted based upon the public’s input from a survey disseminated by the parks and rec department and from an information session conducted in April at Pilgrim Baptist Church, 172 Shrewsbury Ave.
Based upon that information, the park may have a kayak launch into the Swimming River, which the property overlooks; a great lawn and slightly undersized soccer field; a picnic pavilion; wooded walking trails; a playground area; space for a community garden; a boardwalk running the length of the property’s riverfront; a sunset plaza area overlooking the river; a building for an unspecified – possibly educational – use; and a limited amount of general parking, about 36 spaces, with another nine spaces designated for the kayak launch area.
The concept “kind of works on a stepping approach down to the water,” with the amenities representing what people hoped to see on the location, said Tom Lauro, a T&M landscape architect working on the project as well.
Lauro also told the audience there have been additional discussions about incorporating rain gardens and utilizing gray water to make the park a more sustainable site.
The approximately 8.55-acre property located on the western end of Sunset Avenue had been home to the borough incinerator first built in 1930 and used for decades, and for trash collection landfill. The property is owned by the borough. The site was closed in the 1980s and the towering 100-foot incinerator smokestack was demolished in 2009, with the financial assistance of the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The property, however, is overgrown and contaminated and extensive remediation is needed before the location could be considered for public use.
After testing the location, Ballard acknowledged, “We weren’t surprised the former landfill doesn’t meet current standards.”
Lauro pointed out other locations, such as in Neptune, North Brunswick and Leonia, and sites in New York City, Seattle, Washington and Newark, which have been sufficiently cleaned up and converted into widely used parks.
Ballard said there has been talk of temporarily capping the property with about 24 inches of clean landfill to contain the contamination while local and state environmental officials formulate a plan for the future long-term remediation. But, she added, that would require clear-cutting the vegetative life there.
The site’s contamination was a bone of contention for Freddie Boynton. Boynton had organized a May follow-up to the April public input session where he and others expressed opposition to the park, believing the contamination poses a clear and present danger to the community – especially to West Side children. Now retired, Boynton is a nearly 30-year veteran of the borough Public Works Utility and has worked on that site, he said. “That’s not a place for a park,” he said angrily. “I know what’s down there.”
Susan Byrne, a West Westside Avenue homeowner, was even more passionate about her fears. She’s seen drug use at the end of her dead-end street by those congregating there and worried the park would “just give them a nice place to shoot up.”
And there is the already strained parking situation that gets worse if this is built, Byrne maintained.
“I don’t understand why we have to develop every piece of property,” Byrne said, wondering why it can’t be cleaned up, yes, but left in a natural state.
“This is the opposite of development,” borough administrator Stanley Sickels responded, maintaining that a “dirty landfill” will be converted in a community asset.
Mark Gregory, who lives on Bank Street on the West Side, agreed with Sickels, believing this will benefit the community. Gregory said the West Side is being developed, new homeowners are moving in, some of them encouraged by the prospect of a long-discussed park.
Brian Donohue has lived on Bank Street since 2003 with his family. “I can’t tell you how excited I am,” to finally see progress on this project, he said. On any given day, there are 10 to 15 children playing in the roadway, dodging traffic, he said. “So, the West Side needs it,” he believed. Donohue added he would like to see a skate park established either here or somewhere in the surrounding area.
So far the plans have not cost the taxpayers anything, with the DEP having contributed about $750,000 toward the site, Sickels said, with additional money available to move forward. “Why would we not want to follow through?”
The borough council will have to vote to accept the concept plan, Ballard explained, before the engineers could proceed with a remediation plan. Once a final plan is accepted it would take about three years for the park project to get underway. And in all likelihood, the park would be built in stages, she said.
This article was first published in the Nov. 30-Dec. 7, 2017 print edition of the Two River Times.
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