By FRED T. ROSSI For Union County HAWK
SCOTCH PLAINS – A split recreation commission on Monday voted to include funding for an artificial turf field at Brookside Park as part of its budget request to the township council, which will consider the turf question only after it holds a special meeting on the subject next month.
After hearing concerns about the turf plan from a dozen residents who live near the park, the commission voted 5 to 2 to include the cost of installing turf at the baseball field in its capital budget request for this year. The council is set to hold a budget hearing on Wednesday, February 22, to consider appropriations for all municipal departments. Recreation Commission Chairman Mike Walsh said on Monday that the recreation portion of the township budget will be considered separately, after the council holds a special meeting in March where an expert in artificial turf issues will be present to speak with and answer questions from the public.
Last month, several residents spoke in opposition to the turf plan, and those residents, along with several others, expressed their concerns on Monday evening about the impact that a turf field would have on the park, which Hill Top Road resident Susan Bruno described as “a precious little haven of greenery.” Shawnee Path resident Ivy Kessler noted that a survey taken two years ago as part of the master plan for recreation found that residents wanted more walking paths, paved bike paths and nature areas in township parks, with additional turf fields being near the bottom of the list of preferences.
She and several others raised concerns about flooding at the park while Shawnee Path resident Fran Wagner reiterated concerns she raised last month about the potential for dangerously high temperatures on the turf field during the summer months. Concerns have also been raised about the environmental impact of artificial turf and the many cubic yards of rubber chips that would be used as an underlay. Susan Dazzo of Woodside Road said that “we have plenty of turf fields” but “so little natural land left” in town.
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, telling the commission that turf would allow games to be played later in the day after a morning rainfall. The turf field would be free of pesticides, he added, and would save water now used to keep the natural grass healthy. He also noted that there is no turf baseball field in town.
Mr. Walsh, along with Vice Chairman Tom Donatelli, voted against including the turf funding in the commission’s budget request. Mr. Walsh said the baseball field is set for other upgrades, including lights, new dugouts, fencing and improved drainage. He echoed some of the residents’ concerns about artificial turf, specifically the impact from summer heat, and also questioned how much more use a turf field would get versus the existing natural grass. He said other parks in town such as Memorial Field and Jerseyland Park might be better suited for a turf project. He also noted that “budget resources are going to be limited” this year, and a turf field at Brookside Park “could eat up a lot” of funding dollars.
Commissioner Colleen Gialanella, though, favored the turf project, saying it will allow the field to be used “more efficiently” and help overcome what she said were “shortcomings in our facilities.” Installing turf at the Brookside field, along with the planned lighting, will make it a “premier field.” Commissioner Christine Davis said a turf, and lit, baseball field would expand its use and also instill “a sense of pride” for hometown athletes playing there.
After the commission’s vote, several residents spoke again to express their disappointment, with Ms. Kessler warning of a “slippery slope” effect where more and more of the park is taken over at the expense of its natural state. Ms. Dazzo said that a turf field “will, without a doubt, change the nature” of the park “immensely.”
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