WESTFIELD, NJ – Some residents’ frosty response to plans for an ice rink to be placed in an 8.3-acre municipal park on the Garwood border for a trial time isn’t stopping officials from moving ahead with the design.
Gathered in the rain at Gumbert Park, where the rink is to be built, about 50 residents on Wednesday grilled local officials on the plans to have Union Sports Arena lease the basketball courts there and erect an NHL regulation-size hockey rink to operate this November through February.
Neighbors raised concerns about potential traffic impacts, the rink’s aesthetics, a perceived parking deficit and the potential for noise. Municipal officials, however, emphasized that the town’s lease with Arena Realty Partners limits Union Sports Arena’s stay to the four-month time, after which officials will evaluate its possible renewal.
“I know this isn’t what you guys want to hear,” Mayor Shelley Brindle told the residents. “But the council voted on this and approved it. And we signed a lease.” Westfield's Town Council authorized the plan by a vote of 6-3 on May 23.
Salter Place resident Susan Levy said the 48 parking spaces included in the plan are inadequate and predicted the rink’s patrons will take up parking spots on nearby neighborhood streets.
“There is not adequate parking on Fourth Avenue. There is not adequate parking on Salter Place,” said Levy, 54, while standing at the basketball courts where the rink will go. “There is not adequate parking in this location.”
Other residents questioned the design, which calls for a 40-foot tall tent to enclose the rink. An Aug. 22 plan for the project shows that in addition to the 17,000-square-foot rink, four changing rooms, bathrooms and a 512-square-foot tent to store a Zamboni.
The agreement with Union Sports Arena allows the municipality to renew the rental for five years, Brindle said, but officials have promised not to do so without careful analysis first.
The Westfield High School Hockey Team and area hockey clubs are anticipated to use the rink for practices, but not games, so as to mitigate traffic concerns, details on the town website show.
Since the park’s purchase was funded by state Green Acres monies, the rink must be made accessible to anyone in Union County, but local groups will be given priority, the website states.
As part of the deal, Arena Realty Partners will install new sidewalks, additional exterior lighting and replacement picnic tables in Gumbert Park, Town Administrator Jim Gildea said.
Second Ward Councilwoman JoAnn Neylan, who previously voted against the plan, detailed concerns about the process with which Westfield’s Town Council authorized the lease.
“This was done, in my opinion, at lightning speed without any consideration on how it is integrated into the master plan in Westfield,” Neylan said.
Brindle countered that the rink’s temporary nature negates the need to incorporate it into the planning document.
Although the plan is to test the proposal, Gildea said, Gumbert Park’s flat and acreage make it the only municipal property where an NHL regulation size ice rink would fit.
“It’ll be assessed at the end of the season for success, failure, concerns, issues,” he said.
Staff Writer Matt Kadosh may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MattKadosh
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