Township Council Approves Downsized Catalpa Park

6-30-15 Catalpa Hearing22

Andrea Riese told the council that the park was “overcrowded.”

Township cricket players will have another place to hold their matches now that the Township Council has approved the plans for Catalpa Park.

The council voted after a 3 1/2-hour special hearing on June 30, exactly one year to the day an earlier version of the park was lambasted by area residents and withdrawn for retooling.

Those residents were still opposed to the park, but council members said they believed the scaled-down plan before them represented a good compromise.

“I know you’ll be dissatisfied if we build this park, but I hope you’ll appreciate the compromise we brought here,” Township Councilman Phil Kramer (D-Ward 3) told the audience which packed the council chambers.

The roughly 25-acre park will be built in two phases and will cost about $4.5 million. Township manager Robert Vornlocker said that construction probably would not start until at least the summer or fall of 2016.

The land has been on the township’s radar since at least 1999, with Catalpa Park being mentioned in the township’s Master Plan in 2006, Mark Healy, the township’s principal planner, told the council.

The original plan called for using just about all of the park’s 108 acres, building it out in three phases. That was seen as too intense a use by residents, who were able to convince the council to take the plans back to the drawing board.

The approved park’s first phase will include four tennis courts, two basketball courts, a tot lot/playground, a community garden, a picnic pavilion and bathroom facilities. The park is bordered by Old Vliet and South Middlebush roads.

The second phase will include one large and one small cricket pitch and an exercise walking course.

It was the cricket pitches that sparked the most interest by those in favor of and opposed to the park. Members of the township’s Indian community have lobbied hard for inclusion of the pitches, because, they said, there is a lack of places to play. The proposed park’s neighbors expressed concerns about noise and traffic generated by the games, which can last for hours.

The plan presented to the council on June 30 also included a beach volleyball pit, but that was removed amid concerns over how the pit would be maintained.

Vornlocker said that in the future, if there was a request for it, the pit could be dug in a day.

Most of those who spoke during the 2 1/2-hour public comment portion were against the park, saying it would cause traffic, environmental and flooding problems.

Lea Lahtinen of Arthur Glick Boulevard said it was “unconscionable to have a sports complex like this developed in the middle of a residential area.”

“It’s totally unacceptable,” she said.

Andrea Riese of Magellan Way said the plan is “overcrowding” the park.

Riese said that when she looks out of her windows, she has a “beautiful view” of what’s now open space and farmland.

“That beautiful view will be destroyed by this construction,” she said.

Representatives of New Jersey chapters of national cricket organizations were also on hand to tell the council that cricket pitches are desperately needed in the township.

Several commenters asked why the park couldn’t be built in another part of the township.

“Suitable pieces of property are not a dime a dozen,” Vornlocker said. “They’re a rare gem.”

Township Councilman Ted Chase (D-Ward 2) said that the park would fill a recreational need.

“We’ve heard from the cricketers for years,” he said. “I think it’s very important that we support them.”

Mayor Chris Kelly ( R) said that he could only support part of the plan.

Kelly suggested eliminating the first phase – the tennis and basketball courts, picnic pavilion and walking exercise trail – and instead build on the cricket pitches and community garden.

That way, he said, the pitches could be moved farther away from homes.

That idea received no support from the all-Democratic council, however.

“I do believe there is a better place for this,” Kelly said. “We don’t own it now.”

“It’s nice poetry to say build it somewhere else, but then we’ll fill the room with somewhere else,” Kramer said. “There is no place where it won’t offend someone.”

The council voted separately on the two phases, with Kelly casting the lone “no” vote on phase 1. He went along with the majority on phase 2.



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