By FRED T. ROSSI For Union County HAWK
SCOTCH PLAINS — Prior to its vote last week to approve funding for the installation of artificial turf at the baseball field at Brookside Park, one neighborhood resident, Shawnee Path homeowner Fran Wagner, warned the township council that neighbors opposed to the turf proposal were “prepared to take steps to force a referendum so everyone can vote.”
And those opponents are moving forward with trying to do just that by attempting to have the entire $3.8-million bond ordinance — which includes about $1.2 million for the turf project, with the remaining funds earmarked for other upgrades to the field itself and improvements to other parts of the park — placed as a referendum on the ballot. An effort to garner enough signatures to force a referendum got underway two weeks ago, according to Woodside Road resident Susan Dazzo, who, along with Ms. Wagner and several others living near the park, has repeatedly spoken out against the turf proposal at four council meetings and two recreation commission meetings since the start of this year.
The neighbors’ concerns have focused mostly on the impact of the turf on the park’s environment, specifically the many cubic yards of rubber chips that would be used as an underlay for the turf and how much would eventually run off into the brook that runs along the park’s southern and eastern edges. They also have pointed to the potential for dangerously high temperatures on the turf field during the summer months, the increased potential for injuries and the overall impact of synthetic turf on the 23-acre park itself, which one resident described as “a jewel of Scotch Plains” during a February council meeting.
At last week’s hearing, prior to the council’s vote to approve the bond ordinance, Ms. Wagner said the recreation department’s survey of residents, conducted as the recreation master plan was being crafted two years ago, had found that artificial turfing of playing fields was number 18 on residents’ list of priorities.
Volunteers have been going door to door with the petition and spent time seeking signatures at last Saturday’s Earth Day events. Ms. Dazzo told Union County HAWK that, “we’ve made significant progress” in getting signatures on the petition from “a good number of people across town.” Earlier this week, she said that, “we’re still tallying our signatures but we’re on target to meet our goal, with roughly 1,000 so far.” The ad hoc group that is spearheading the effort — Friends of Brookside Park — must collect the requisite number of verified signatures within 20 days of the bond ordinance’s April 18 adoption — or Monday, May 8 — to force the question onto the ballot.
Backers of the Brookside turf proposal were fewer in number at public meetings this year, but the heads of the local youth baseball and soccer associations spoke favorably about it on several occasions, pointing primarily to the expanded playing time that turf would afford their leagues. Chris Bates, the president of the baseball league, told the council in February that in surveys of players’ parents, “the number one complaint was fields,” namely their availability, their condition and their usage, with some asking why there are no turf fields in Scotch Plains.
When Ms. Wagner last week spoke to the council about the efforts to force a referendum on the turf question, Mayor Joshua Losardo said he was “not a believer in referendums. The people elected us to make hard decisions,” such as the one on the Brookside field, he said.
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