UNION, NJ – A heated community meeting to discuss the development of the Kennedy Reservation was held last week with Township officials and about 125 residents who came out to voice their opposition to the project.

“This has not been voted on,” said Mayor Suzette Cavadas.  “This is not a done project.  We want to hear your concerns.”

Describing the project, Project Engineer Joe Venezia said it is a joint effort between the County of Union and the Township of Union.  The County owns a 5-acre parcel located on Green Lane and the Township owns the other 40 acres.

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Venezia said the County and the Township began discussing the project in 2015 and they began performing a preliminary investigation on the feasibility of the project. 

Last July, Venezia said, the County and Township hired an engineer to further refine the project plan.  The Township has applied for Green Acres funding, which is available via application once a year, in February.  The project was also discussed at the February 14 Township Committee meeting.  One area resident spoke positively about the project during the public comments portion of the meeting.  

In general, Venezia said, the project consists of three elements:  The County portion of 5 acres will include playground equipment, two separate play areas for different aged children, restroom facilities, picnic facilities and a parking lot.

The Township’s portion of the park, known as the Kennedy Reservation, consists of 40 acres for two sections:   six-foot wide walking paths throughout the park to “provide recreational opportunities” and a future dog park. 

Regarding the Kennedy Reservation piece, consultant engineer Doug Hopper from Remington and Vernick said the trail system starts from the improved parking lot within the County lot and would tie in with the remainder of the trail system that winds through the woods.  “There’s basically natural trails there now.  All we’re doing is just enhancing those so more people can use them.”

Concerns from residents included whether the deed allows for such a change to the property, increased traffic and increased trash and incidents involving Kean students and others using the reservation.

“That property was deeded to the Township back in the early 60s,” said one Union resident, “by the grandmother of the Kean’s with the stipulation that the property has to remain in its current condition for 100 years.  This is year 50.”

“I don’t know if you guys have done your due diligence,” continued the resident.  “Apparently you haven’t if you haven’t investigated the deed to see if the restrictions are on the deed.”

“What is the answer to the point that we have 50 more years before we have to come to another meeting to talk about development?” asked a resident. 

“We will look into that,” said Township Attorney Daniel Antonelli.  Antonelli said the County has been spearheading the project.  “Now that this has been brought to my attention,” he said, “I will look into it.”

Another resident voiced her concern about Kean students using the property and leaving behind garbage, including drugs and alcohol.  “I don’t want that in my backyard.  It’s a great neighborhood.”

Discussion about the dog park was met with opposition as well.  “We don’t need any more traffic on our street,” said one resident. 

Several residents complained of the garbage already in the reservation.  “My husband and I have taken the initiative to clean up the park.  We filled garbage can upon garbage can.  If we think productively about what should happen at that park, perhaps cleaning it up is a good first step.”

In response to the issue of crime in the area, Union Police Director Dan Zeiser there has been a total of 17 crimes over the last three years in the area.  Within the confines of the reservation, there were three arrests in 2016.  Residents complained of people in the reservation using drugs, setting fireworks and leaving trash within the reservation.

“As a community, we have a concern for crime and an increased crime rate with this newly proposed development,” said a resident. 

Township Business Administrator Ron Manzella clarified, “it’s not a development in terms of homes or buildings.  The hope was to get more people to commute through the reservation to the train station.”

“The origin of this was to try to create something better for the community,” said Manzella.  “We haven’t adopted a final plan.  We haven’t received money for the plan.”

“The mayor will direct me to sit down with the County and the engineers,” said Manzella.  “Nothing will happen until we meet again.”