Sound System Ban In Middlebush Park Tabled, Compromise Is Sought

Seeking to find a compromise among residents who are for and against installing speakers in Middlebush Park, the Township Council Oct. 14 tabled a proposed ordinance that would have prohibited the use of any type of sound system in the park.

Instead, the council decided to form an ad hoc committee comprised of council members and residents to try and hammer out a compromise that will most likely result in speakers in the park, but in a configuration and used at a volume agreeable to Middlebush area residents.

There’s no time frame attached to the committee’s work, but council members said they wanted to come to a decision as soon as possible so that it will be in place for next year’s Pop Warner football season.

The decision to table the ordinance came after a three-hour public hearing, during which opponents of the plan – most of whom were affiliated with the township’s Pop Warner football program  – outnumbered Middlebush area residents who did not want a sound system installed in the park.

The system would mainly benefit Pop Warner and would be used in the stands next to the park’s two football fields.

While there were those on either side of the issue who stood their ground, council members believed they heard enough residents call for a compromise for the body to move in that direction.

An ad hoc committee comprised initially of Council members Roz Sherman (D-Ward 2), Carl R.A. Wright (D-Ward 4), Kimberly Francois, (D-At Large) and Ted Chase (D-Ward 1) was formed after the vote to table. The committee will pick residents on both sides of the issue in the hopes that a deal can be struck.

The council also amended a resolution it passed last month – banning sound systems in the park – to run a sound volume test on Oct. 19 when the park will host several Pop Warner playoff games.

The idea is to try to get a benchmark volume for a sound system which can then be used to design a system that will keep the sound from being heard by the park’s residential neighbors.

While he supported the idea of the test, Councilman Phil Kramer (D-Ward 3) cautioned that it might not mean anything.

Kramer, who has supported the idea of a sound system as long as it did not bother neighbors, said that the settings of a portable system may not translate to a system that is designed specifically for the park.

Proponents of the sound system argued that announcing a game over a loud speaker is part of the football experience and helps the boys play harder. They also said it was ludicrous for the program’s cheerleaders to have to do their routines without music playing.

Franklin’s is the only field in the league without a sound system, some noted, which was a source of embarrassment for them.

Some proponents also claimed opposition to the sound system was race-based because the majority of Pop Warner participants are African-American.

Opponents of the system argued that the noise from the system would disturb their peace and quiet on Sundays, and that there would be more games in which it was used than the 10 Sundays a year claimed by the Pop Warner representatives.

Some proponents for the plan, which was first broached by Wright in May, stressed the positive influence the program has on its players.

Blair Wilson, a Pop Warner volunteer, said the program’s participants are very active in the community.

“We teach the kids in our program that we have to give back,” he said. “Community service is a must.”

“Why hurt children who just want to hear their names called, or cheerleaders who will have to do all of their routines without music?” he asked.

Others, such as Somerset resident Arisa Sawyer, said the ban on a sound system “has upset us parents, who take great pride in the program.”

A public address system, she said, “has become an integral part” of the cheerleading and football program.

Stanley Croughter, the Pop Warmer president, said that a compromise would have to be reached.

“At the end of the day, we’ve got to have a compromise,” he said. “You need a P.A. system at a football game. It’s not a football game without one.”

Natasha Branscomb said a P.A. system “contributes a great deal” to a Pop Warner game.

“It encourages a sense of community,” she said.

Referring to the fact that Pop Warner used to use the Franklin Middle School field to play, where e a P.A. system is in use, Branscomb said, “It’s Ok to have a P.A. system in a predominantly African-American section of Franklin, but it’s not good enough for a predominantly Caucasian section of Franklin?”

Christopher Anderson, a 15-year-old junior Pop Warner coach, said the P.A. system makes games special for the players and the fans.

“It’s good to emphasize that your child made a tackle, that your child made their first sack, that your child scored that touchdown,” he said. It makes the moments more special.”

Residents whose properties abut the park renewed the objections they have lodged since May.

“It seems no one has given any consideration to protect the property rights” of nearby residents, said Brian Crawford of Gauguin Way.

Tom Moran, president of the Hunter’s Crossing Homeowners Association, said the park has “gotten out of control. You need to get it back under control.”

“We need you to stop and think about balance,” he said.

After about three hours of comment, Deputy Mayor Brian Regan proposed an amendment to the ordinance which coulw have allowed speakers under a permit system and would have set penalties for violations of volume limits.

After two violations on two consecutive Sundays, an organization would lose its permit to use the system. he said.

Sherman then proposed an amendment to Regan’s amendment which would shave mandated that amplified sound could not be heard beyond the boundaries of township-owned property, and would have created the committee to develop a compromise arrangement.

Regan said he could not agree with the stipulation that sound not be audible beyond the township’s property line, so he did not support Sherman’s amendment.

Sherman’s amendment was seconded by Kramer.

“That’s what I’ve been proposing from Day 1,” he said. “We have advice from a sound advisor that we can have a sound system that people in the neighborhood can’t hear.”

Before a vote could be taken on the amendments, Chase made a motion to table the ordinance until after a committee was formed and had met.

That motion won unanimous support, which rendered moot Regan and Sherman’s proposed amendments.

Middlebush Park P.A. System Comments at Oct. 14, 2014 Council Meeting



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