SUMMIT, NJ—An ordinance aimed at increasing safety in the city’s parks was defeated and sent back for revision by the Common Council on Tuesday after residents and some council members complained it was too restrictive.
The measure would have kept Summit’s parks open to the public from 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset except to attend events authorized by the director of community programs.
It also would have given the community programs director the power to close any section of the park to the public temporarily “or at regular and stated intervals and either entirely or for certain uses as the director shall find necessary.”
Specific park schedules set forth in the ordinance were:
- Glenside Athletic Field—field—7 am to dusk or 30 minutes after sunset; lighted field—dusk (30 minutes after sunset) to 11:30 pm.
- Long Field--7am to dusk (30 minutes after sunset).
- Mabie Park Basketball Court—7am to 11 pm.
- Soldiers Memorial Field—7am to dusk (30 minutes after sunset).
- Tatlock Park—Investors Bank and Greenfield Fields—7am to dusk (30 minutes after sunset); Tennis and basketball courts and Upper Tatlock Field—7am to 10 pm
- Wilson Park—Athletic field and basketball court—7am to dusk (30 minutes after sunset); platform tennis—7am to 10 pm.
Canoe Brook Road resident Peter Lijoi said, when Governor Chris Christie was trying to cut back on government regulations and residents are suffering from economic hardship it was “offensive” to spend their money to restrict park access.
Lijoi added he often walked his dog in Tatlock Park at all hours of the night and saw others enjoying the track and other activities later in the evening.
He also said there are other problems at Tatlock that needed to be addressed such as broken fencing, blinking lights in the parking lot, and broken portions of the Walk of Fame.
While some residents who live near the parks would agree with restrictions on some of the basketball courts and the tennis courts at Tatlock, Councilman Dave Bomgaars said, he found the proposals banning activity from 30 minutes after sunset or dusk would pose a hardship on joggers, for example.
Replying to a comment by Councilman Thomas Getzendanner that patrolling the parks for those violating the schedule would add to the police workload, Councilwoman Nuris Portuondo said police officials, including the former chief, had recommended the ordinance out of concern for resident safety.
“I am hesitant to restrict the use of our parks by residents at any time,” Councilman Patrick Hurley said.
Most of the objections to loud noise in the evening could be met by stricter enforcement of the city’s noise ordinance, he added.
Hurley also read a letter from the environmental commission that opposed the ordinance because, the commission said, use of the parks served as a deterrent to crime and the proposal gave the community programs director too much control over park use.
However, Miles McMahon, a member of the Community Programs Advisory Board, said the restrictions would help convey the message that the parks were not a safe place in which to be after dark.
McMahon said allowing unrestricted park access after dark could lead to a resident getting injured and not being discovered until daylight.
He added the recent killing of an unarmed Florida teen in a darkened area because of uncertainty about his activities led to a stain on the reputation of that community.
Without the restrictions, he said, a similar situation possibly could develop in Summit.
In other business at Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Ellen Dickson swore in Andrew Bartolotti as Summit’s newest police captain, David Richel as lieutenant and Michael Treiber as a sergeant.
Dickson also announced that Fire Battalion Chief Eric Evers had been selected to replace retired Deputy Chief Rick DeGroot.
Council President Richard Madden also announced the city had received a $900,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to deal with damages from last fall’s storms.
On another matter, James Eng of 9 Hawthorne Place complained that assessments of residents for a portion of the $500,000 price tag road and curb improvements on the street were too high and residents should have been told what their estimated assessments would be before the bond ordinance financing the improvements was passed.
He said he could not afford the maximum $50,000 assessment quoted in the ordinance.
Community Services Director Beth Kinney replied Hawthorne Place was one of the worst rated roads in the city and the project would give the street a badly-needed drainage upgrade and improve site distance at a few corners on the street.
Madden and Portuondo both said it was difficult to predict the exact cost of a project and the breakdown of resident assessments when a project was proposed because costs change over time and the city did not have exact cost figures until bids were received.
Kinney offered to schedule an appointment with Eng so she, the city engineer and other officials could explain the specific financial impact of the project on his property.
Hurley told The Alternative Press that he voted against the ordinance because, if residents raised concerns about proposed projects, those concerns should be addressed before a project was approved.
The governing body also awarded a $412,130 bid for paid parking access equipment at the city’s Park & Shop parking lots.
Parking Services Director Rita McNany explained the proposed equipment would enable those using the lots to pay using their cellphones or credit cards.
She added the parking authority hoped to phase out the Summit Smart Card system over the next two years because it was not conversant with the new parking lot access technology.
McNany added that to retain Smart Card use with the new system would cost an additional $35,000, but that option could possibly be explored later.
On another parking-related matter, the councilmen approved a waiver of the city’s noise ordinance so improvements to the Park & Shop lots could be done on nights and weekends.
The council also authorized an amendment to its affordable housing spending plan that would extend until the end of the year the deadline for the city to spend funds in its affordable housing trust fund that have been in the fund for more than four years.
A recently-passed state law requires the expenditure of the funds by mid-July of this year unless such an amendment is passed.