RARITAN TWP., NJ - The red signs are popping up all over the Clover Hill section of the township. Residents are attending Township Committee meetings by the dozen.
They’re part of the effort of a growing coalition that objects to an athletic complex proposed for Clover Hill Park, 115 acres of open space owned by the county.
Conceived by a group established by the Township Committee and first revealed to the public last month, the concept includes building soccer, lacrosse, baseball, softball and football fields; artificial turf; basketball and tennis courts; playgrounds; and concession stands. It is on the agenda for Township Committee’s meeting tomorrow, May 15.
The Committee meets at 7 p.m. in the Municipal Building off of Route 523.
Although the opposition claims to have hundreds of signatures on a petition objecting to the concept, it isn’t clear how many supporters it actually has. At the May 1 Township Committee meeting, Mayor Michael Mangin instructed those speaking during the public comment period to not repeat what others had already stated.
Michael Class moved here three years ago and said he’s a former Middlesex Borough Councilperson.
“I am not in favor of doing this,” said Class, who is also a coach for Flemington-Raritan Baseball. “All the farmland around here is incredible. The wildlife is incredible. The park is incredible. What we really need are bike trails, places where the community can go out and enjoy it.”
Although the plan’s supporters have asked Township Committee to endorse the concept before they present it to county officials, “There’s no reason for this board to endorse this plan at all, because there is no plan,” Class said. “There are no facts, no study, no engineering.”
Class said it “really blew me away” that local youth sports organizations “have travel teams for 7 year olds. It’s crazy. I’m sorry, it’s not that we don’t have enough fields already. It’s the incredible expansion of sports that very few individuals want.
“I’m in the FRB,” Class reminded officials. “They don’t speak for me.”
Class said that the groups endorsing the plan – which include Greater Flemington Soccer Club, Devils Lacrosse, Flemington Falcons and FRB, and which claim to serve more than 3,000 children – “are very small groups of individuals that certainly don’t have all the players and parents behind them.”
Class said he’ll work to stop the project.
“This is right around the corner from my house,” he said, and he doesn’t want to hear announcements coming from public address systems during athletic events.
“I picked my community,” Class said. “I live on the outskirts of town. I ended up there for a reason. I work my butt off. That’s where I want to live.”
Class criticized Flemington Borough Planning Board Chair Todd Cooke, who endorsed the concept at Committee’s April 17 meeting. “He shouldn’t speak to the newspaper,” Class said of TAPinto’s report. “Tell him thanks for me ... He can come here and pay taxes whenever he wants.”
Steve Saus, who is among those leading the opposition, said he moved here in 2004 and has coached Flemington football for the last four years. He noted that the Clover Hill site had been eyed as a possible location for the Hunterdon County 4-H and Agricultural Fair after it lost its location on Route 31 in the township and before it was relocated to the South County Park just outside of Ringoes 14 years ago.
At the time, planners decided the area’s infrastructure couldn’t support the annual event, he said, so Saus questioned how the same site could support regular large-scale events now. He estimated the proposed 12 ballfields could draw 700 to 1,000 cars.
“How are you going to park that number of cars?” he asked. “How many entrances are planned into this complex?”
Saus said the existing ballfields adjacent to the proposed location started with three soccer fields. Last year, Township Committee approved portable lights for the park.
“We oppose incrementalism,” Saus said. “All the residents in the area hear the engines” of the generators that power the lights.
Clover Hill Road resident John Testa said he’s lived in the township for 20 years and “I grew up in the city. I moved here because I worked my ass off ... to be in a rural area, where it’s quiet, to enjoy my family and neighbors.”
It’s “conducting business in a residential area,” Testa said of the concept.
“No one knocked on my door,” to tell him of the plans, Testa said. The county previously rejected his request for a private driveway, citing traffic safety concerns, he said, so he questioned how this athletic complex could be allowed. He thinks proponents of the plan were “trying to sneak by the residents ... quietly.”
“It was outed ... and now you have a problem on your hands,” he told the Committee.
“No one is trying to sneak anything by anybody,” said Ira Rosenheim, who is part of the committee that prepared the concept. “That cannot be further from the truth.
“What’s been really disappointing is the amount of misinformation, exaggeration, hyperbole and flat-out incorrect statements made by many people throughout the community,” he said.
“Apparently, this proposal will generate traffic more than the 4-H Fair, every single weekend,” Rosenheim said. “This will have lights shining into people’s houses 24 hours a day, potentially open up a hole in the ozone layer above Raritan Township, endanger our children’s lives as they try to cross the street to use this complex, and generally ruin the lives of every resident of Raritan Township who lives within a mile of this property.
“Nothing can be further from the truth,” Rosenheim said. “What people are refusing to hear is that what was presented was a concept plan, to show what could be done on that particular piece of property ... people are taking it as written in stone.”
Rosenheim said objectors are “jumping to conclusions, and making assumptions based on pure emotion and not facts. And I can confidently say that, because we are so early on in this process that there just are no facts yet.
“There are people who are just not listening. We just don’t have facts yet,” he added.
“An endorsement of this plan does not mean this is exactly what will be built on that property,” Rosenheim told Township Committee. “Nobody has ever said that.”
He said Clover Hill Park is already designated as a future general use park with active recreation.
“A sign has actually been there for years,” Rosenheim said, and repeated his request that Township Committee, “Approve a resolution endorsing this concept plan.”
Nancy Reger moved here 1992 when Merck owned the Clover Hill property and said she thinks there are enough athletic facilities already.
Reger said that from her backyard, she can see the lights allowed at the existing site and hear the generators.
“They are disruptive,” she said, and the proposal is “changing the lifestyle” of the area and “changing our quality of life.”
Rosenheim suggested that, “instead of putting our hands over our ears and saying, ‘No, we can’t do this,’ we really should be asking the question, 'How can we do this?’ Because this could be great for our community.”
“We’re opposed to any concept to develop that park,” Saus said. “We’re not interested in any concepts no matter how large or small ... We’re already not crazy about the three fields that are there already.”
“In my experience in politics, you kill King Kong when he’s a baby,” Saus said.
“There is no resolution” yet taking any official position on the concept, the mayor said. “We’ll be asking our attorney to take a look at it.”
What the attorney might draft isn’t clear. Township Committee has not itself discussed the concept plan in public.