LIVINGSTON, NJ — Following a second public meeting held in Livingston last week to discuss the current plans for how to spend the $1 million currently allotted toward the revitalization of Riker Hill Art Park (RHAP) in Livingston, some of the priorities, such as improving the safety and accessibility of the entrance at the intersection of Beaufort Avenue and Homestead Drive, are already underway.
Making improvements to the roadway entering the park and addressing drainage were among some of the concerns raised at an initial meeting hosted by both Essex County and Livingston Township officials in January, where members of the public helped brainstorm ideas for the RHAP Master Plan.
Some of the other changes in the current draft of the plan—presented last week after taking the community’s ideas from the January forum and a public survey into account—include painting the exterior of the buildings, creating a way-finding map, demolishing an unusable building and creating a community garden in its place, establishing a scenic outlook and creating pedestrian walkways in the park.
“We were very happy that the county came and presented their thoughts for the RHAP for the second time this year,” said Livingston Mayor Ed Meinhardt. “I think the feedback generally was positive, I think the county took back with them some very good suggestions from both the residents and the artists as well, and I look forward to seeing what the final presentation will look like as soon as it’s all done.”
Although the county intends to host a third public forum prior to adopting a final plan, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr. began taking steps to address flooding and safety issues on Monday, calling upon the county’s public works department to start work at the entrance less than a week after the second RAHP Master Plan meeting.
“When residents shared their concerns about traffic safety and flooding at RHAP, I knew we had to address them quickly,” said DiVincenzo. “We have plans to upgrade the facility, but it only makes sense to also enhance safety on Beaufort Avenue and address flooding in the neighborhood. Our employees were already on site [on Monday] to get some of the improvements started.”
As seen above, courtesy of Essex County, public works crews were at the intersection of Beaufort Avenue and Homestead Drive on Monday morning removing brush and overgrown vegetation from the side of the road in order to help improve sightlines for motorists. Crews returned later to cut dead trees and prune branches from along the road.
In order to further enhance motor vehicle safety in the neighborhood, DiVincenzo has requested that the township install stop signs at Beaufort Avenue and Homestead Drive, which are both municipal roads, to create a four-way stop.
Existing photos of the 42-acre site as well as detailed descriptions of the primary improvements that have been designed based on public input were shown in last week’s presentation by landscape architect and park planners Joe Perello and Kirk Danielson of Suburban Consulting Engineers, Inc.
The design concept focuses on what the team perceived as the priority uses of the park: walking, biking, exercising, visiting the artists, working in the studios, enjoying the views, observing wildlife and enjoying the historical significance of the site. In addition to the revitalization of the current buildings, some of the popular additions include the community garden and the scenic outlook.
DiVincenzo specifically reaffirmed that the county’s intention is strictly to improve the current state of the park, and not to re-purpose it. In other words, some previous suggestions such as adding an amphitheater for outdoor concerts and other uses for the space are not currently being considered.
In response to inquiries about why the county did not choose to expand the usage of the area to make it more similar to West Orange’s South Mountain Reservation and other parks, DiVincenzo said it has been his understanding that the residents prefer RHAP to be “more of a passive park.”
“Everybody that was here at the last meeting talked about it being a passive park,” said DiVincenzo, whose priority is to improve what already exists and highlight the history of the site. “The people that live in the community, that’s what they want. They don’t want to see something that’s heavy traffic going in and out.”
He also explained that he is also prioritizing the feelings of the surrounding residents and participating artists, who will all be consulted prior to finalizing any plans, he said.
However, the county did make note of some recommendations brought forth during the most recent meeting, such as involving local students in the art and history aspects of the improvements; relocating the proposed community garden and consulting professionals about how make it successful; recruiting the resident artists to help with interior improvements that are not currently part of the plan; and more.
The overall consensus from residents and artists was that the first draft was impressive and exciting, and many were optimistic about the future of the site.
“First of all, I want to thank all of the professionals who came to the last meeting, listened to what everybody said and have made a terrific stride in achieving that goal,” said Richard Dinar, a resident of Beaufort Avenue. “I think this is a great second meeting…I’m hoping that when you come back for the next meeting that you’ll have the engineering for the roadways that you can talk about and give the look of what it will look like when that’s done, and I think that will probably get you substantially closer to getting the consensus that you want to be able to get this project off the ground.”
Livingston resident Robert Hunter acknowledged the challenge of taking a former U.S. Army Nike Missile Base and turning it into a destination like the one being proposed, and he commended DiVincenzo for taking on the project.
“We’re in the right hands,” the 46-year county resident said of DiVincenzo and his staff. “It’s a five-star ball club and we’re going to go far.”
While in the area Monday morning, DiVincenzo and his public works staff met with North Rockledge Drive resident Tom Liu, who shared his concerns about flooding on his property caused by water coming from a utility pipe at the park. According to the county, Liu has installed two French drains and taken other steps to address the water runoff, but flooding has persisted.
To alleviate the amount of water that runs to neighboring properties from RHAP, the county will close the utility pipe and develop a more comprehensive plan to determine where the water originates and where it drains.