EDISON, NJ – Residents from Edison and Metuchen are standing united in an effort to save what locals fondly refer to as the 'Lucille Ball' pond and, on Feb. 21, neighbors from both communities held a rally at the site to raise awareness about a proposed redevelopment project.
Located in Edison on the Metuchen border at the corner of Clive Street and Mason Drive, the approximately three-acre 'Lucille Ball' site boasts a now -vacant 1920s home and centuries-old glacier pond. Although Lucille Ball was never confirmed to have resided in Metuchen or at the aforementioned property, rumor has it that after her divorce from Desi Arnaz, the celebrity dated someone from the borough and was considering renting the home.
"Everyone in the area referred to the home as the 'Lucille Ball' house, so it just made sense to refer to the pond in the same fashion," said Joseph Rydarowski, a resident of Metuchen who lives across the street from the property.
In early 2018, the property was purchased for $600,000 by S&A General Construction & Development, Inc. and, according to Rydarowski, the Edison-based developer initially planned to construct as many as eight homes on the site. Concern about the fate of the property and looking to keep neighbors in both towns informed, a group of residents launched a 'Save the Lucille Ball Pond' campaign and Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/savelucyspond) with the goal of 'saving the pond from being backfilled in order to provide more land for additional homes.'
In early 2019, Rydarowski, one of the group's founders, and other concerned residents met with S&A's owner and CEO who, at that time, presented plans for the site that included the construction of three homes, one of which sat on the edge of where the pond currently exists. When questioned about the home's location, Rydarowski told TAPinto that the developer stated he 'would just fill in the pond here and there to accommodate his plans.'
Since that meeting, said Rydarowski, rumors about the plans being scaled back have circulated throughout the communities but 'no updated renderings or blueprints have been shared with nearby homeowners or borough officials.' Requests for comments from S&A General Construction by TAPinto were not returned as of press time.
However, on Feb. 10, property owners within 200 feet of the site received a registered letter from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) informing them that 'S&A General Construction & Development, Inc… is applying to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Land Use Regulation Program for a Freshwater Wetlands General Permit…" If granted, the permit would allow for the 'filling and/or disturbance of a non-tributary wetlands' at the aforementioned property.
While residents are not opposed to the construction of a home or two on the site, they are adamant against the filling in of the pond and are continuing their fight to ensure it is spared in the project. In their responses to the state, they have included documentation from NJDEP confirming the pond's thousands-year-old history.
According to the 2003 letter sent from the NJDEP to a Clive Street resident and obtained by TAPinto, the pond is found on maps dating back to 1870 and is the southern-most kettle-pond in New Jersey, which was formed some 20,000 years ago. In the letter, a supervising geologist for the NJDEP referred to the site as 'one of the few remaining kettle-hole ponds on the terminal moraine in Middlesex and Union counties' and that although 'formerly quite numerous in the area…' ponds of this nature have 'almost all have been filled during urbanization.'
"I remember the tranquil area around the pond from many years ago. It would be incredible to see it restored to its former glory," Michele Silber, a resident of Metuchen for 45 years, said. "We cannot sit back and let a developer attempt to destroy it.”
In a recent Facebook post, Metuchen Mayor Jonathan Busch called the pond an 'environmental treasure to our region since the ice age which must be preserved.' He stated that borough engineers also evaluated the pond and confirmed that it is 'a glacial kettle pond which drains into the preserved Dismal Swamp wetlands. The Dismal Swamp serves as a surface water tributary to the Raritan River.'
In their responses to the state's Feb. 10 notice, residents have submitted reports and expert testimonies from wildlife biologists and engineers from both communities that support their claims that the pond should not be touched. Additionally, Mayor Busch, along with Edison Mayor Thomas Lankey have both expressed opposition and, in a joint effort, submitted a three-page letter to the NJDEP dated Feb. 19, 2021 that referenced the effects the project would have on the area. They also included for reference the 2003 letter from the state agency confirming the pond's 20,000-year-old history.
In their correspondence, the mayors stated that S&A's activities would 'cause substantial adverse environmental impacts to the property and cause considerable impacts to freshwater wetlands' and that S&A mischaracterized the property by not 'depicting the pond as being part of a surface water tributary system.' "Neighboring residents in both municipalities have voiced their concerns that any development of the property would be detrimental to the fragile ecosystem within the community and would result in the destruction of the pristine wetlands," the mayors wrote.
According to Rydarowski, development of the pond would result in a 'loss of this important natural resource,' and have a 'negative impact' on both existing homes and the surrounding ecosystem. He also said that building a home on top of a pond will increase water issues, which are already present. “All the homes in our area have sump pumps that are almost constantly flowing, in fact one neighboring property has three installed. I can’t begin to imagine what a house built on top of a pond will have as far as water issues," Rydarowski said.
The pond, according to the resident, 'controls surface water, recharges the water table, and removes sediment and pollutants before they enter the groundwater and the sensitive Dismal Swamp ecosystem.' He stated that the local significance of the pond and its beneficial impact of being one of the few remaining undeveloped natural habitats in the area 'can’t be measured.'
"Protection of the pond is essential to protect wetlands in accordance with state and federal laws as it is part of a surface water tributary system that ultimately connects to the Raritan River," he said, noting that the pond also serves as a nesting, resting, foraging, and shelter habitat for various species of wildlife, including migratory birds, herons, hawks, owls, turtles, frogs, foxes, and salamanders.
"The developer's consultants appear to have left out some very important details regarding the surface water connection between the pond to the Dismal Swamp and Bound Brook that are essential in NJDEP providing the wetland proper protection under their wetlands protection program," said Rydarowski. "Our intent is to prove that this wetland should be offered protection by the NJDEP and should not be altered."
"…in small towns there are very few treasures, very few special places…you have to maintain some type of respect for what came before you," Michael Napolitano, a resident of Metuchen since 1974 told TAPinto. "How do you take a 20,000-year-old pond that existed before modern civilization and fill it in for homes? It sounds like a story from Poltergeist. It’s hard to believe that this is being entertained by the government and by S&A Developers. There’s good and bad everywhere; I’m just hoping that the good outweighs the bad here.”
At this time, a final decision from the NJDEP on the developer's request for a Freshwater Wetlands General Permit is pending.
"We hope that the NJDEP gives a thorough evaluation of all the comments provided by neighbors and elected officials in Edison and Metuchen that demonstrate the ponds hydrologic and ecological connection to the bigger watershed it resides within and offers it the necessary protections that the laws were intended to provide," said Rydarowski.