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Open Space Committee: Put Moratorium On New Township Park Development

Councilman: Council may be backtracking on scope of Catalpa Park

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About 50 residents around the area planned for Catalpa Park appeared at the Sept. 16 Open Space Advisory Committee meeting to express their displeasure with the idea.

Faced with public backlash over plans for Middlebush Park and the proposed Catalpa Park, the township’s Open Space Advisory Committee on Sept. 16 voted to recommend a one-year moratorium on new township-financed park development.

Although the resolution passed by the committee references parks, the original motion was made in the context of athletic fields paid for by the township’s Open Space Trust Fund.

The vote was not unanimous; committee members John Moon, Chris Williams and chairman Randy Jones voted against the proposal, made by member Arnold Schmidt.

Schmidt made his proposal after the committee heard from a number of residents around the proposed Catalpa Park – planned for more than 100 acres at South Middlebush and Old Vliet roads – all of whom opposed the idea of putting a park on that property.

The 50 or so residents were part of a larger contingency which showed up at a June Township Council hearing on the park.

Initial plans call for  two cricket pitches, six tennis courts, two softball fields, three soccer fields, a picnic pavilion, trails and two bathrooms on the property, but Township Councilman Ted Chase (D-Ward 1) said that the council seems to be backtracking on that since the June hearing.

Council members are now looking at ways to put components of the planned Catalpa Park in other locations, he said.

Schmidt said his suggestion was based on his observance of many playing fields around the township being underused.

“I’ve driven around and I’ve seen a lot of fields not being used,” he said. “I propose a moratorium on any kind of recreational building at this time, just to give out a rest and see for the next year how many more field are needed, before we build fields that are not needed.”

The township several years ago commissioned a recreational needs assessment, which led to the push to create more active recreation. But, Schmidt noted, improvements in existing parks and at least one new park – Middlebush – may have altered that need in the interim.

“Let’s see what the people are calling for,” he said.

Jones said that he has to get in his car from where he lives to take his son to a park.

“Our biggest challenge is finding a park,” he said.

Jones said he hoped there wold be something on the Catalpa property, just not something as large as was originally planed.

“I agree that we should take an assessment of what’s being used,” he said. “I just can’t support a moratorium.”

“It’s just worth taking a breath,” said committee member Bob LaCorte. “I support it.”

The committee heard from area residents for about 45 minutes.

Magellan Way resident Carlo Canestri, president of the Knob Hill Homeowners Association, said he had a petition with more than 200 names against the park.

“And that was with little effort,” he said.

Some of the development’s residents feel as though they were tricked, Canestri said.

“They thought they were buying near Green Acres, now they could have a soccer field and baseball fields near their homes,” he said.

“I don’t want Catalpa Park to turn out like Middlebush Park,” Canesri said. “I don’t want my backyard to look like Middlebush Park.”

Wane Dibofsky, also of Magellan Way, told the committee that they have “awakened a sleeping giant.”

“We will not tolerate it,” he said of the park. “We will not allow the (Township) council to tolerate it.”

Edward Drive resident Sophie Benzinger said she could “see a better use” for the money that would be used to build the park.

“I don’t think there is a need for this big complex,” she said.

The committee’s suggestion will be sent to the Township Council for its consideration.

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