Township Council Green-Lights Final Planning Of Catalpa Park

Butler Road resident Sylvia Temmer said she wished the Catalpa Park property could be kept as passive recreation.

Catalpa Park could be open by the fall of 2018, now that the Township Council has green-lighted the final concept plan.

The park’s two cricket pitches – the source of much of the controversy over the park during the past three years – should be ready for play by the spring of 2019, according to one of the engineers planning the park.

The council unanimously – save for Deputy Mayor Carl Wright, who was not in attendance – gave Township Manager Robert Vornlocker the-ahead to continue with the park’ site plan development after a third public hearing on the park at a special June 29 meeting.

The park, bordered by Old Vliet and South Middlebush roads, is expected to cost between $3 million and $4 million. In addition to the two cricket pitches, the park will also feature four tennis courts – which will be striped for Pickle Ball players – two basketball courts, a bocce ball court and areas to play horseshoes and cornhole.

There will also be two pavilions, one by the cricket pitches and one on the other side of the park, as well as a tot lot. Two parking lots will hold 82 and 67 parking spots, respectively.

There will also be two bathroom areas, one each near the cricket pitches and on the park’s other side. It was at first planned that the bathrooms would be serviced by wells, but Vornlocker told the council June 29 that there are additional costs associated with that plan, and that a nearby water main may be extended to those areas, if it is found to be cost-efficient.

A double row of evergreen trees will be planted to shield nearby residents from the sights and sounds of the cricket pitches, said Robert Russo, a principal with CME Engineering, who is designing the park. About 900 to 1,000 feet of fencing will also be installed along the park’s Arthur Glick Boulevard side to keep people from walking through residents’ yards to get to the park.

An internal walkway will connect to an existing township trail, and will feature paracourse equipment, Vornlocker said.

Finally, a fenced-in community garden will be planted by the play area’s parking lot.

Vornlocker said the park will also have a security camera.

“Once the park is done, then we’ll decide the best place for the camera, based on the limitations we have to work with,” he said.

Old Vliet Road will be widened to 24 feet near the park’s entrance, he said.

This was the third hearing in the past three years held on the park. The first two drew large crowds, mainly comprised of residents close to the park who objected to it, and supporters, most of whom are cricket players.

The park’s original plan was much grander, calling for its build-out in three phases. Public outcry convinced the council to head back to the drawing board and scale down the park’s scope to what it is now, removing one of the construction phases.

Perhaps reflecting that, the June 29 hearing was more low-keyed, with a minimal number of attendees. Still, both sides were represented.

Sylvia Temmer of Butler Road said she wished the property could “remain as passive recreation. I don’t see there’s the need for this.”

“We can’t recreate environment that’s been destroyed, and we cannot recreate species that have been lost,” she said. “That’s a great concern for me. You have scaled it back considerably, and I appreciate that.”

Saptarshi Bhattacharjee of Julie Court told the council that he and teh township’s other many cricket players need more playing areas.

“New Jersey has 172 teams, we play 19 games per season, 11 of them are home games,” he said. “In our township, we have 18 teams, and none of them have home grounds.”

“Whenever the game comes we have to tell the opponent that we need to use your ground,” he said. “Last week I traveled all the way to Voorhees to play a game, which was our home game, but I did not have a home ground. We desperately need a home ground if we can get one.”

Gregory Lane resident Brian Doherty was among those who took the opposite view.

“You can’t return nature back to the way it was,” he said. “Having lived on the border of South Middlebush for 25 years and seen the traffic, the idea of a park like this is disturbing. I see this not as a park but as an urban sports complex.”

“It’s a community park,” Vornlocker said.

“I can appreciate the need for this, I just winder about the other softball fields, whether they’ve been considered, and whether the true impact of this has been addressed,” Doherty said.

Vornlocker said the only nearby softball fields are part of private communities and are not open to the public.

Vijayalakshmi Pundi of Mindy Way said the Hillsborough-based Dream Cricket Academy, for which many township youth play, will be hosting a national championship, “and we are always scrambling for pitches. There will be 270 kids playing, 150 families will be in town.”

Tomeka Saxon of Pear Tree Lane told the council that she supported the park, but thought that another traffic study should be done.

“You guys should pay attention to the amount of traffic that will be on the road during a cricket game,” she said.

“While I will never say the traffic conditions on South Middlebush are good, the impact of this project on South Middlebush will be negligible,” Vornlocker said. “Only a fool would say it’s going to get better, it won’t. Traffic is generated generally Saturday and Sunday mornings. It’s not anticipated that this park will have a significant impact.”

“Those who suffer,” Vornlocker said, “will be the people using the park” when they turn from Old Vliet Road to South Middlebush Road.

“We just don’t want a park in our backyard,” said Jill Gerber of Arthur Glick Boulevard. “It has nothing to do with whether it’s cricket or not. It bothers me that we’re building up an area that’s open space.”

“It’s hard enough to get out on Arthur Glick, it doesn’t matter the time,” she said. “Adding that extra traffic is very concerning.”

Wayne Dibofski, Chief of Staff for state Assemblyman Joe Danielsen and a township resident, congratulated the council on the plan.

“Three years to the day, there was standing room only in this room,” he said. “I was standing here wearing a different hat, saying you are building a sports complex. Kudos to everyone in this room who has worked out a compromise. You have done what good public policy is about. You have sought viable solutions to everybody’s problem.”

“You have done something remarkable,” Dibofski said. “You have scaled down what originally looked like a sports complex into a community park. You have met the expectations of every homeowner who had a legitimate concern. The assemblyman and our office want to thank you for the effort you put forth.”

“I love the concept that has finally been brought together,” said Township Councilwoman Roslyn Sherman (D-Ward 2). “It is a beautiful community park, which this area needs.”

“We were sorely in need of an expansion of our park facilities,” she said. “We had a lot of community input … this council took very seriously that need to provide our residents with the appropriate need of community recreation. This is a very necessary thing for our residents. We want to keep out children off the road and keep our adults healthy, and provide family environments for picnics and whatever.”

In response to an Amethyst Way resident who said there are many other parks that township residents could use for cricket games, including Colonial Park, Councilman Ted Chase (D-Ward 1) noted that teams cannot reserve playing fields for entire seasons at the park.

“You can only reserve one at a time and that makes it pretty much impossible for league play,” he said.


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