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Township Councilman Claims Catalpa Park Social Media Opposition Is Race-Based; Page Creator Calls For An Apology

The Catalpa Farm property is targeted for a new township park.

The Catalpa Farm property is targeted for a new township park.

Claims by a Township Councilman that a Facebook page’s opposition to the proposed Catalpa Park is race-based propelled the Human Relations Commission to vote to issue a statement denouncing the site’s language.

The creator of the page disputed the charge.

Councilman Rajiv Prasad (D-At Large) told the commissioners at their July 27 meeting that posts to the Facebook page “Tranquility Protection Alliance of Franklin Township NJ” contained shielded slurs against Asian Indians in their opposition to the park, which is slated for about 25 acres bordered by Old Vliet and South Middlebush roads.

Prasad said the slurs are contained in references to “cricket players” supporting the park. Plans call for the park to have two cricket pitches. Cricket players, many of them Asian Indians, have been lobbying the council for years to create more playing spaces for their sport.

But township resident Brian Ulrich, creator of the Facebook page, disputed Prasad’s claim.

“I am furious that he would even suggest that this is what this is about,” Ulrich said. “I feel that he owes me an apology because that is not what I’m about.”

Ulrich said it’s his belief that the township is being overdeveloped.

“I’m about stopping the noise, stopping the traffic and stopping overdevelopment,” he said.

The council after a public hearing on June 30 approved the concept of a 25-acre, $4.5 million park – which represents a significant downsize from the park’s original plan. In addition to the cricket pitches, the park will contain four tennis courts, two basketball courts, a tot lot/playground, a community garden, a picnic pavilion and bathroom facilities.

Plans have yet to be drawn up, and must be approved the council. Township manager Robert Vornlocker said that construction probably would not start until the summer or fall of 2016.

“Well the Franklin town council did it again,” Ulrich posted on July 1. “They voted to go ahead with the development of another huge organized sports park at South Middlebush and Old Vilet known as Catalpa Farms. They knew going in that they were going ahead with it…. No matter what was said. Destroying 50 ACRES (to give you an idea of size the White House is on 18 Acres!) of natural open space to develop it. Even though 3/4 of the room was there opposing it… they pretty much said we need it and if not in your back yard… Whose?”

Ulrich also noted that Edison residents spoke during the public hearing. Those residents, as some commenters pointed out, were leaders of cricket leagues in which township residents participate.

Ulrich said his post received more than 30,000 views and spurred more than 100 comments.

Prasad told the Human Relations Commission that he and other council members were also coming under attack.

“It’s getting to the point where there’s a lot of fallout that the council is getting for the Catalpa decision,” he said.

Reacting to his information, the commission voted to issue a statement denouncing the language it was told was included in the posts.

The statement will denounce the “racially insensitive language” used by some commenters on the site and will say that the “overt campaign to kill the project definitely has racial overtones,” said commissioner Edna Arguello Hitchner.

Ulrich acknowledged that his posts are calling for the removal of council members who voted to approve the park concept.

“The post that I believe he’s referring to is the one that specifically said if they don’t listen to the people then they have to go,” Ulrich said.

“I believe the town is overdelveloping and a lot of people feel that way,” Ulrich said. “This brings it to light.”

Ulrich was also part of a group of Middlebush residents who unsuccessfully opposed a sound system in Middlebush Park.


 

Editor’s Note: The lede of this story was changed to reflect that statements made by Councilman Prasad propelled the Human Relations Commission to vote to issue its statement; there was never any implication that Prasad asked for the statement.

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