SCOTCH PLAINS – Four of the five members of the township council voted on Tuesday to advance a $3.8 million capital bond ordinance to fund improvements to Brookside Park, which include the installation of artificial turf at the park’s baseball field.
Following more than an hour of comments from 25 residents (most of whom expressed opposition to the turf proposal), the council voted with Councilwoman Elizabeth Stamler dissenting, to introduce the bond ordinance and set a public hearing and final vote for April 18. Besides turfing the baseball field, township recreation director Julie Buonaguro said, the $3.8 million will also pay for fence and drainage upgrades, new dugouts, renovations to the pickleball courts (the township hopes to make them permanent), playground shading and improvements to the park’s walking trails, including a new footbridge.
The upgrades to Brookside Park were recommended by the recreation commission, which decided to focus this year’s capital requests on the park. A number of residents spoke mostly in opposition to the turf proposal at the commission’s meetings in January and February and at the council’s March 7 meeting.
Most of the concerns raised on Tuesday night echoed those raised at the earlier meetings, especially worries about the impact of the turf on the park’s environment and the many cubic yards of rubber chips that would be used as an underlay for the turf. Residents asked how much of the material would eventually run off into the brook that runs along the park’s southern and eastern edges.
Several residents said that alternatives such as organic turf be looked into. Andrew Bondarowicz, a former council member who has been heavily involved in youth sports, acknowledged the shortage of playing fields but said Brookside Park is not suitable for turf due to the environmental concerns. Several residents suggested alternative spots for turf, including the fields behind Terrill Middle School and the to-be developed field next to the apartment development at the former Parker Gardens site.
The heads of the local youth baseball and soccer associations spoke favorably about the turf proposal, with Chris Bates, the president of the baseball league, saying that “turf is the way to go” and warning that without a turf field, young families with children will move out of town “in droves.”
Deputy mayor Ellen Zimmerman was the only member of the governing body to speak about the turf issue prior to the bond ordinance’s introduction, saying the process “has been like nothing I ever imagined local government would be.” She said council members still have time before the April 18 final vote “to form our opinions.” She thanked residents for speaking out at meetings and contacting council members with their views.