April 5, 2014 at 2:42 PM
WEST ORANGE, NJ - On Wednesday, April 3, the West Orange Planning Board added language to their Resolution to approve Case No. PB-13-26C for Essex County's proposed capital improvement project at South Mountain Recreation Complex. The amended resolution included a recommendation that the County should relocate the proposed Turtle Back Zoo Dog Park to an already cleared space and that they return to the Planning Board with a separate application for the Dog Park if they decide to move forward with the plan. The resolution was then approved.
The following recommendations by the West Orange Planning Board were made pertaining to the County's proposed capital improvement project, specifically the construction of a playground adjacent to the Paddleboat area, and a dog park adjacent to the southwest corner of the resevervation:
"The County should improve directional traffic into the recreational facilities, especially for vehicles travelling westbound on Northfield Avenue; the County should consider relocating the proposed dog park to an area which has fewer trees in order to avoid removing trees from the mature pine grove in its proposed location."
The West Orange Planning board cannot veto plans by the County to construct on county-owned land, but it is in the best interests of the County to present their proposals at the planning board meetings and discuss concerns with the board and community.
The March 5 presentation by the county at the Planning Board meeting raised concerns from the board, conservancy groups, and residents, particularly about the removal of 65 trees for the playground and 40 trees for the dog park. Sanjay Varghese, who was present at the Courtesy Hearing on behalf of the county, at that time said the county would replace the 65 trees with 76 new trees and the 40 trees with 80 trees, and that the County would be adding an additional 1,000 trees in the future. Residents still opposed the removal of a mature pine grove for the dog park.
In addition, concerns were raised about restroom facilities; sufficient parking; lighting; security; fencing; and traffic on Northfield Avenue and Cherry Lane, including directional signage.
Following the March 5 meeting, the County reviewed the Board and community concerns and said they would not be moving forward with the dog park at this time. It should be noted that a dog park already exists in South Mountain Reservation, at 10 Bear Lane in Maplewood.
Some Planning Board members and environmental interest groups, including the South Mountain Conservancy, still opposed the building of the dog park and the nautical playground citing the concerns previously noted.
With the dog park on hold, the Board recommended that the dog park not be built at the location proposed, and if the County decides to move forward with this project at a new location it should return to the Board for review pursuant to MLUL §31. It is unknown at this time what the County will do. The Alternative Press will continue to provide updates as they become available.