Residents Protest Park Plans, Pool Rule Prohibiting 'Swimmies'
Fairmount Road resident speaks out about proposed upgrades to Memorial Park.
One resident questioned plans for upgrades to Memorial Park, while another proposed changing a new rule prohibiting flotation devices at the town pools at the West Caldwell Council meeting Tuesday. West Caldwell Mayor Joseph Tempesta and Councilman Dominick Aiello were absent from the meeting.
Lighting Up Memorial Park
After improving field drainage and making upgrades to one of the baseball fields at Memorial Park, the council would now like to increase field usage by installing lights. Other "wish list" items expressed by township officials for improvements at the park, include connecting the Harrison School field with Memorial Park, the installation of restrooms and a concession stand, as well as new playground equipment, and a basketball court.
A bond ordinance in the amount of $1.5 million authorizing improvements to various fields had initially been placed on the council agenda, but was removed due to Aiello's absence from the meeting. Aiello is chair of the Recreation Committee.
Council President Stan Hladik, who was presiding over the meeting in Tempesta's absence, said an ordinance for the installation of the lights will now be introduced at the next council meeting on June 19 with a public hearing to be held over the summer.
If the council approves this ordinance, Hladik estimates lights will be installed in either September or October at an approximate cost of $300,000.
While several residents who live in the adjoining neighborhood attended the meeting, it was Mitch Payne of Fairmount Road who came before the council with his concerns.
"We fought for years for an ordinance for the parks to close at 9:30 p.m. Now what is going to happen in my neighborhood?", Payne asked.
In addition to the lights, Payne also wanted to know if the council had a timeline for other proposed upgrades, such as the restrooms, concession stands and even the possible installation of a turf field. Payne questioned if these upgrades were necessary, asking if town funds could be better spent in other areas.
Payne also questioned how the town could pay for these additions, noting a few years ago the town was considering laying off police officers and froze township employees' salaries due to budget constraints.
"Now we have a new firehouse, several police officers received promotions last year, and we are looking to make all these changes to the park," he said.
Hladik acknowledged the town's fiscal health has improved over the past few years, and with interest rates being at historic lows, he said, "There is no better time to expand."
Payne responded by saying why did the town need to incur debt to create a "state-of-the-art" park. "We need to look at scale and scope," Payne said, suggesting the town should look to share more fields with the Caldwell-West Caldwell Board of Education.
Payne also said he was concerned about the traffic if lights and other improvements were installed, noting it is already difficult for residents on Dodd Road to back out of their driveways when fields are being used by various teams and sports organizations.
In addressing Payne's concern about the park curfew, Hladik said the town could still close the park portion of Memorial at 9:30 but make an exemption for the field portion until 10 p.m.
Payne also asked how major changes for the town could be placed to a townwide vote on a public referendum. Borough Attorney James L. Lott, Jr. responded that public referendum items are made at the discretion of the council or by a public petition. Lott told Payne he was unsure of the amount of residents needed for a formal petition, but would find out for Payne.
New Pool Rules
With both pools opening Memorial Day weekend for the start of the 2012 season, many parents with young children were disappointed to learn flotation devices were no longer allowed in the Cedar Street Pool. While they have never been allowed at Westville, many parents liked the "swimmies" or "wings" to help their children become acclimated to the water.
Madelyn Brown spoke to the council about this new rule, and asked for a compromise. While Brown realized the rule was put in place so parents would not leave their young children in the pool unattended, she asked if the devices could be used as long as parents were with their children.
Hladik explained the new rule was implemented by the pool manager for safety reasons, without the involvement of the council. However, similar to the new rule on the increase in age from age 10 to 11 for children to attend the pool without supervision, the council also agreed to look at the flotation device rule.