Open Space Committee Rejects Plan For ‘Peace And Nonviolent’ Monument Park At Consolata

The Open Space Advisory Committee recommended that a proposed “Peace and Non-Violence” monument park not be placed on the former Consolata property.

A proposed “Peace and Non-Violence” monument park should not be located on the former Consolata property, a township advisory board recommended June 19.

Instead, some version of the park should be incorporated into the Memorial Forest at Cedar Grove Lane and Amwell Road, the township Open Space Advisory Committee recommended.

The committee also admonished the Township Council for not bringing the plan for its review, as is customary.

The recommendations were unanimously approved by committee members.

The proposed monument park has long been the brainchild of Township Councilman Rajiv Prasad (D-At Large). Prasad won council support to begin vetting the proposal at its May 22 meeting.

Prasad’s vision is to have two full-sized statues and two busts of people he said represent the values of peace and non-violence: Nelson Mandella, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Ghandi and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The four statues would be donated by an as-yet anonymous donor.

He wants the statues placed in a corner of the section of Consolata property that has been designated as open space, bordered by Cortelyous Lane and Route 27.

The proposal caused controversy because of the initial plan to have the monuments and an adjoining parking lot installed by township public works employees. Mayor Phil Kramer said at the May 22 meeting that that could take up to eight weeks and cost more than $100,000 in worker time.

But an ad hoc committee established to look into the proposal has determined that no public works employees would be used, and that the installation would be done by a private contractor, Councilman James Vassanella said at the June 13 council meeting.

Prasad said at that meeting that the Franklin Township Community Foundation has raised about $15,000 to be used for the installation.

The foundation is a 501 (c)(3) organization founded as an educational organization, to “operate exclusively for charitable or education purposes for the benefit of residents of Franklin Township,” according to its 2016 tax return.

In 2016, the last year for which the return is publicly available, the organization had $135,621 on hand. Its officers then were Vassanella, who was president, and trustees former Councilwoman Roz Sherman; Councilwoman Kimberly Francois; Prasad and Alan Ramsey.

Open Space Advisory Committee member Bill Connell, angered that the project is moving forward with no input from the committee, successfully argued for a motion to admonish the council.

Connell said that this was the second time the council has bypassed the committee when planning something for open space, the first, he said, being Middlebush Park on DeMott Lane.

“I just feel like it was kind of rammed in there with no plan,” he said. “It was not discussed in context with the committee, and I feel it was wrong and we’ll go all the way back to Middlebush Park where the committee felt like they were manhandled by council, and this is an opportunity to say this property still doesn’t have a destiny and we always want to make sure that we’re invited to the party before you have a plan.”

“I think the committee was not insulted, but not considered when making this decision, and I think it sets precedent for the rest of the property, where council people can put their pet projects on a piece of land and it not be reviewed properly,” he said.

Connell then moved that the committee “acknowledge that council acted out of order on a piece of open space land. That we don’t agree with what they did or how they did it, more importantly.”

“I can’t even have a conversation about the statue part unless that is acknowledged,” he said.

That motion was adopted unanimously.

Kramer acknowledged that township protocol was not followed in this case.

“I believe you are correct and other council members agree, that this came from council and it did not go through Open Space, that is not the protocol, council messed up on the protocol,” he said to Connell. “I don’t think we broke a law, because it’s our own protocol, so we didn’t break a law, but we didn’t follow our own protocol, and that is how mistakes are made.”

“I’m not saying that a mistake was made here, but that is how mistakes are made in government or in any organization, you don’t follow your own well-thought-out protocol, you make mistakes,” he said.

“I have heard this discussed several times, I have never heard anyone say, ‘we are not going to discuss this at open space, we are going to do it’,” Kramer said. “I think some people got caught up in the zeal of this. They were being human, council members are human, but I don’t think that it was necessarily nefarious, I think they just got caught up in things and that’s what happened.”

Connell said that “not a penny” of township money should be used in connection with the monument park, aside from “planting a tree” or dumping a load of soil.

He also said that he was not sure Consolata was the proper location for the park.

“The issue with the Consolata property is that its purposes hasn’t been vetted yet,” he said. “If you put that there, then it diminishes any other future plan. It should not go there first, and then come up with the rest of the plan, because it may be in the way. I think having it there at this point in time is inappropriate.”

Committee member Chris Williams, also a member of the Shade Tree Commission, said the commission wants to move forward on the long-dormant plan for Memorial Forest at the intersection of Cedar Grove Lane and Amwell Road. And, he said, this monument park, in some form, would be perfect for that location.

Committee member Arnold Schmidt said he told Prasad that a better location would be at the municipal complex or Franklin High School. He said the memorial park could be included in high school and elementary school curricula.

“Seems to me to have it on this Consolata property, on this space of ours, is a rather obscure place, and if it’s something for peace and harmony, you’d want to put it in a place where people are going to congregate more, some place like the municipal complex,” he said.

“Placement, I think, is important, where people are actually going to see them,” he said. “I don’t know how many people are going to see them at Consolata, whereas people are coming and going from the municipal complex, with the library there, the senior center there, the municipal building there, to me that’s a better site for it.”

Williams’ motion that the committee recommend that the memorial not be placed on the Consolata property, but instead be incorprated in the Memorial Forest was also unanimously approved.

Committee member Bob LaCorte said he had problems with the choice of monuments, among other things.

“You’re going to have one group who may be upset with a particular statue not being there, another group is going to say well why is that statue not there, its supposed to be tranquility and peace and you’re going to have groups fighting why isn’t that there, why isn’t that there, and that is going to be, I think, a major problem,” he said.

“And do we know who’s making the statues, I understand they’re being made in China,” LaCorte said.

“You’d have to talk to Councilman Prasad, who’s spearheading this donor’s efforts,” Township Manager Robert Vornlocker said.

LaCorte suggested a different design circular with a tree and Peace Roses as plantings, along with butterfly bushes. He said a rock could be obtained with a plaque with the honorees’ names on it.

“Then you could go to the Eagle Scouts and ask them to make benches,” he said.

LaCorte said he would be against any statues being included in the memorial park.

“We’re having problems right now throughout the whole country because of statues,” he said.


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