By Chris Rotolo |
MIDDLETOWN – Residents of the Middletown adult community Shady Oaks say it is not unusual to encounter the flashing lights and blaring sirens of an ambulance along West Front Street, on its rush to Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank.
A concept plan to attract people to newly created soccer fields at nearby Stevenson Park should consider the traffic impact on the busy road, said Shady Oaks resident John Tocco at a township meeting Oct. 15.
“Regardless of what you may believe about the area, you’re not living there and you’re not driving the road every day,” said Tocco. “I am. And the traffic is already unbearable and it’s a direct route to the Riverview hospital. There’s no question that when that park is crowded with visitors it will prevent an ambulance from getting to that hospital.”
Middletown Township is seeking to create youth sports fields at 130-acre Stevenson Park, located on West Front Street, to help alleviate pressure on its other sports fields. The undeveloped park has the capacity to accommodate up to nine fields and 350 parking spaces, according to a $1.5 million proposal recently presented by township administrator Anthony P. Mercantante for consideration. For now, the township is seeking only to build just two fields, and is applying for a $250,000 Open Space matching grant from the county for the funding.
Mercantante acknowledged the group’s desire for a traffic study, but conducting one in that area would be “sort of pointless,” he said.
“We have parks all over town, some of which have many more facilities and attract many more people than would happen at Stevenson Park,” Mercantante said, referencing multisport complexes like Bodman Park off the highly trafficked Navesink River Road, Fairview Fields on Oak Hill Road, which is crossed by two rail lines, and McMahon Park, a North Middletown location in a residential area.
When the concept plans for this project emerged in September, both Mercantante and Mayor Kevin M. Settembrino agreed that the township had great need for additional fields and that Stevenson Park is one of the last places in Middletown to place a meaningful cluster of playing fields.
Deputy Mayor Anthony P. Fiore, a coach with the Middletown Soccer Club, said parks are most frequented on weekends, rather than during the week when roadways are congested with commuter traffic. He also remarked that the four soccer fields at West Front Street Park – a patch of green space at the intersection with Crawfords Corner Road – “don’t get anywhere close to 100 cars” at peak use, adding that “despite what anyone may think, there is a need (for these fields).”
To reduce disturbances for neighbors, the plans do not include LED lighting towers and speaker systems.
Linda Alonso has lived at Shady Oaks for five years and said the disturbance of the tranquil Stevenson Park setting with serene open space and lakeside views would be the most detrimental byproduct of this project, which proposes the potential development of nine fields in three phases of construction.
“It’s not just residents of Shady Oaks who are concerned, it’s all of Lincroft. This would be the destruction of a piece of heaven. It breaks my heart to think about,” Alonso said.
Fiore moved to suppress residents perceptions that nine fields were guaranteed for the site, emphasizing that though the concept plan did show nine fields could be designed to fit in the parcel, a project of that magnitude is not in the budget.
“Ultimately, we don’t have the money for nine soccer fields, we just don’t. We have the money for two. That’s what the grant application is for,” said Fiore, referencing the $250,000 Monmouth County Open Space match grant Middletown would use to fund the construction of two fields. “This is the frustrating part about misinformation.”
Resident Margaret Gordon questioned whether such a development would have environmental impacts, with potential fertilizer chemicals or pesticides used for routine field maintenance seeping into the nearby wetlands and Shadow Lake.
Gordon’s comments prompted committeeman Tony S. Perry to discuss alternate sites for the two proposed fields, including Bayview Elementary School on Leonardville Road, where Middletown’s recreational flag football league currently plays.
Perry described two lightly used baseball fields toward the back end of the school property that are “completely overgrown. The backstops and benches are completely rusted. And I think it would be a prime location for two multisport fields,” he said, stating that turf fields could be used not only for soccer, but flag football, lacrosse, field hockey and more.
A development project at Bayview would require a shared service agreement between the Township Committee and the Middletown Board of Education.
Perry also said he and Mercantante are spearheading a separate potential shared service agreement between the Township and Brookdale Community College for the use of their various fields.
“If Brookdale is not utilizing certain fields (because they are out of season), we might be able to have our young athletes go play and practice at Brookdale. We’re still working out those details but I hope to bring that to a close fairly soon.”
Denise Thompson, a volunteer manager with the Middletown Soccer Club and Monmouth United, applauded the efforts to find alternative locations for this development project, noting that without the installation of LED lighting – which is not included in the concept plan – the Stevenson Park proposal does not help local soccer players in the fall season.
“I’m in a unique position here, because I live right next to (Stevenson Park), but I have two soccer players, 10 and 13 years old. These fields are not usable to us in the fall without lights because most coaches work during the day. This proposal doesn’t help us in the fall when we are most crunched for space,” Thompson said.
Further discussion is expected on the matter at future meetings.
This article was first published in the Oct. 18-24, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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