Livingston Township Council Holds Open Forum on Madonna Turf Field

View of the field from the backyard of 36 Bennington Rd. Credits: Brian Spector

LIVINGSTON, NJ — With the Madonna Field Project officially underway after nearly a decade of planning, residents of nearby residential areas attended an open forum on Monday with apprehensions about the project, including excessive lighting, noise, traffic and parking.

The Livingston Township Council gathered with local traffic professionals Sgt. John Drumm and Cpt. Gary Marschuetz; Livingston DPW Superintendent Mike Anello; Township Engineer Jeannette Harduby; the project consultant; the lighting consultant; members of the sports council; and residents of Bennington Road and other affected streets on Monday to address those issues and make it a more neighbor-friendly field.

“I think it’s a good time in the project to try to see if there’s any unanswered questions,” said Anthony. “We’re very excited about this project—it’s one of the most exciting things in Livingston in a long time. Our council has been all in favor of getting a nice, safe turf field to Livingston, but we want to make sure everyone’s happy.”

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Bob Zoller, Technical Consultant for Musco Sports Lighting, who has worked with more than 3000 facilities on similar projects where nearby residents are concerned about spill and glare affecting quality of life, attended the forum to alleviate residents’ concerns.

For the Madonna Field project, Musco Sports proposed four 70-foot light posts with the most advanced spill-and-glare control technology available, where the lighting fixture has a large visor covering the front of the fixture.

According to Zoller, the visor serves three purposes: to block light going into the sky, reducing “skyglow” to virtually nothing; to block view of the bulb, cutting the glare from the lighting fixture; and to block off light from going beyond the field, otherwise known as “light spillage.”

To read a more in-depth description of these fixtures and how they will affect both nearby residents and recreational sports programs, click HERE.

In addition to apprehensions about late-night lighting, residents continue to be concerned about noise continuing into the late hours of the night, when many young children in the area are sleeping. The council, DPW, recreation department, sports council and board of education are currently working together to settle on a proper time to close down the field that works for everyone.

“The point of the lighting is so that we use the turf field to the best extent practical,” said Harduby. “We want to be able to prolong the hours that we use the field. If the township is going to invest in a turf field, we want to be able to get the best use out of it.”

The affected residents also addressed the need for a speed study in the area and concerns about excess parking on their streets. With a designated parking lot being added to the new field and a fence separating the properties on Bennington from the field, the township does not anticipate parking being an issue.

However, Cpt. Marschuetz assured residents that their concerns about speeding and traffic would be addressed in order to maintain safety as well as their property values.

“This field is a community field,” said Cohen, adding that this field gives youth sports the opportunity to practice earlier in the day rather than waiting for high school sports to finish. “Livingston High School has 1800 [students], 29 sports and a plethora of youth sports that we offer. Unfortunately many of our youth groups in town don’t have the opportunity to practice—This field is a game changer.”

The township purchased this particular property from St. Philomena’s Church in 2008 for $1.2 million with the sole purpose of developing a local, manageable sports facility. At the time, the church intended to use the same space to build an apartment community—a project that was stopped in its tracks specifically to bring “an incredibly needed recreation facility to the town,” according to former mayor Steve Santola.

“We made it very clear [at the time] that we couldn’t spend this kind of money for less than two acres of land if we weren’t going to maximize the active recreational participation of the land,” said Santola. “It was agreed upon at the time that we would try to keep the lights as low as possible, we wouldn’t do baseball, we’d talk about the hours—then the recession came on and we put the breaks on. In 2010, we [internally reserved funds] to build a turf field with lights.”

Santola, who was echoed by others in the room who were also involved in this project since its inception, agreed with the affected that there should be a conversation and that “nobody listens better than this group of council people,” but asked in fairness to the process that residents remember that the goal was always to have a turf field with lights, a small scoreboard and small stands.

“We’re trying to listen to the concerns you have and at the same time try to achieve the values that we were trying to achieve with respect to developing a field for the use of the community,” said Pat Ippolito, a long-time member of the Livingston Sports Council. “We could have gotten money from the county years ago, but that would have meant that the field wouldn’t have been ours. The field would then be open for anyone [from Essex County] to make a reservation to play on the field.”  

Santola again applauded the council for trying to work with the residents as best as they can and encouraged residents to understand the history of the project and “how important it has been to so many people for so many years.”

Concerned residents continued to state that this project “did not need to be this excessive” and summarized their remarks with, “If you build it, they will come.”

“Everything we’ve heard tonight is very flexible,” said Anthony. “If something’s not working right, this is the type of council that will try to adjust it. We’re here to help out.” 

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