SUMMIT, NJ - Residents of the area surrounding Wilson Park asked the Summit Common Council, at its second meeting of April, to provide details of the process whereby any further improvements to the park would be approved.

As reported in TAPinto Summit on March 23, the park now is under consideration for Phase II improvements as part of a long-term project, which began with Phase I improvements in 2008.

According to an April 6 report in TAPinto Summit, Rick Matias of the Summit Engineering Division and Judith Leblein Josephs, the city’s director of community programs, began working on a redevelopment plan for Phase II improvements that was shared with the Department of Community Programs Advisory Board and approved for conceptual design.

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The April 5 story also said that, although the project originally called for the grassy area that formerly housed the tennis courts to be rehabilitated with either seed or sod, the Summit Soccer Club (SSC) approached the DCP Advisory Board with the concept of funding the difference to upgrade the field to a short-sided soccer field with artificial turf.

The DCP Advisory Board has since reviewed the SSC request and has voted in favor of exploring the possibility of funding the upgrade through a gift from the SSC, the Tap Into Summit story continued.

The story noted that there was much objection to the stated plans from neighborhood residents and community members.

Based on the community's reaction, the agenda item pertaining to Wilson Park Phase II developments was "pulled" from the March 28 Planning Board meeting, according to the April 5 story. 

Josephs indicated that, after reactions to the public notice and conversations with members of the Wilson Park community, her department pulled the discussion item from the agenda. 

Summit Mayor Nora Radest said in the April 6 story that the April 25 meeting was to be "an opportunity for interested members of the community to learn about the project and share ideas for the future of Wilson Park. Input will be used to develop plans that best meet the needs of the neighborhood and the entire community.”

Participants are expected to include elected officials, Summit Department of Community Services and Community Programs staff, and members of the Department of Community Programs advisory board.

Residents in the Wilson Park neighborhood were sent a letter from Radest encouraging them to attend. Representatives from of the Summit Soccer Club have also been invited to the April 25 meeting, the April 6 TAPinto Summit story said.

At the common council’s second April meeting, Kim Leonard of 81 Beekman Road said she found out about the possible Phase II improvements when a neighbor showed her a letter from the city about the possible improvements.

Leonard wanted to know the process through which a decision would be made on the improvements.

Council president Mike McTernan explained that, normally, a proposal such as that for the Phase II project would come first to a council committee, which then would pass it on to the full council with any recommendations, which then would decide whether to pass it along to an advisory body such as the planning board to be returned to the council with recommendations.

At each step of the way, McTernan said, there would be time for public input.

He added it had been several years since the council had reviewed proposed improvements at Wilson Park, and the planned Phase II improvements had not gone through the normal approval process.

At McTernan’s request, Josephs explained at the council meeting the community programs and engineering departments had questions about the donations for the Wilson Field and whether it should be seed, sod or artificial turf.

The entire Wilson Field project had been submitted to the planning board for an opinion as part of a capital budget request, she added.

However, after renovation of the platform tennis courts and basketball courts at Wilson, she noted, the Wilson project was interrupted by two hurricanes, thus delaying completion of the overall project.

Josephs also said the community programs board and all those involved with programs at the field along with interested neighbors known to the community programs department had been notified of the Phase II proposals.

Following the protest from the neighbors to Phase II, Josephs said at the council session, Radest suggested the April 25 meeting to get additional neighborhood input.

McTernan said at the council session that, following the April 25 session, the council’s general services committee would decide whether to recommend the Phase II improvements to the full governing body, which then would decide whether to pass the proposed improvements along to the planning board for recommendations.

He noted that there would be public input at every level if the committee passed the proposal onto the full council.

Leonard also invited council members to observe pick-ups and drop-offs at Wilson School to get an idea of community concerns about adding more cars for additional Wilson field use to the Wilson School area.

Another Beekman Road resident said he was glad to see that “many new faces” on the council had become involved, since some residents had the idea that decisions had previously been made in August without resident input.

First Ward Councilman Robert Rubino replied, however, that it had been about four years since the council had met in August and he didn’t expect to see an August meeting this year.

Another resident also noted, however, that all city sports organizations needed more space but many residents and children who did not engage in organized sports also needed a place in which to play.

The resident said the parking lot was filled until 5 p.m. with school personnel every day, and it became more crowded when baseball games were played on the field.

Another resident said she would like to see plans for Wilson Field as prominently displayed on the city website as those for the proposed renovations to the Summit Community Center.

A 30-year resident of Oakley Avenue said the Wilson Family, whose home originally stood on the site of the field, had a certain landscape design in mind for the field and, in fact, had wanted it to be the home of the arboretum.

He added that the city would not be able to maintain tennis courts on the site.

A previous council had voted to demolish tennis courts in Wilson Park even after the Summit Tennis Association had advocated for the courts, he added.

Paul Galligan of the Summit Soccer Association said that more than 1,000 Summit children were involved in the program and they faced a shortage of space.

Galligan added that residents of the neighborhood who complained about parking near the school knew they were purchasing homes near a school when they bought their homes.

He did tell TAPinto Summit, however, that his group never opposed input from neighbors into the Phase II improvement process.

On other matters, the council saw three presentations:

  • Radest presented a proclamation declaring April Autism Awareness Month in the city to Zachary Brooks, a Lawton C. Johnson Middle School student who is very active in autism causes.
  • Frank Juliano, executive director of the Reeves-Reed Arboretum, announced the arboretum would celebrate National Daffodil Day on Sunday, April 24, with the opening of its new visitors center. He noted that, in 2015 more than 100,000 people had visited the facility, and more than 1,033 volunteers had staffed the facility with more than 5,700 hours worked.
  • Phillip Abramson, managing director of Topology, NJ, the city’s master plan consultant, demonstrated a 'parklets' concept that could turn parking spaces in front of city businesses into pedestrian entertainment, dining and exhibit areas. He said this could help drive pedestrian traffic into the central business district and help enhance the city’s brand as a destination.

The council also adopted the following ordinances:

  • Allowing the governing body to establish a “cap bank” that would give it additional emergency spending authority;
  • Removing a parking space near the entrance to the city hall parking lot;
  • Clarifying the definition of “retail food establishment” in the city’s Developmental Regulations Ordinance, and:
  • Increasing the penalties for residents who do not remove snow from sidewalks in front of their homes.

Following introduction of a resolution to concur in the Board of School Estimate’s concurrence in the 2016-17 school budget, several council members praised school officials, the Board of Education and school estimate board members for helping maintain the excellence of city schools, increasing technology available to students and delivering the highest quality education, while maintaining fiscally-responsible spending plan.

On another fiscal matter, Rubino said he had attended the introductory meeting for the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders budget, which is scheduled to increase 2.9 percent this year.

The councilman said he relayed to the freeholders the desire of Summit residents that the freeholders engage in more “belt tightening”  to keep their budget increases under the state 2 percent “cap” limit, as the Hilltop City’s schools and council had done.

He added he had suggested that the freeholders reduce spending by, among other measures, combining the county police and park police and allowing the county Open Space Fund to sunset as scheduled in 2019 instead of renewing it.

The First Ward representative noted that the open space fund, approved by county voters in 2000, was designed to purchase 100 acres of open land and had purchased more than 300 acres.

He said instead of using fund monies to fill budget gaps and debt service they should be returned to county taxpayers.

Rubino again urged all Summit residents to attend freeholder meetings to let the freeholders know their feelings about county spending.