WESTFIELD, NJ — The public sounded off an extensive plan for parks and fields that shows a wide range of improvements possible for both municipal and school properties.

The plan shows $41.61 million in potential improvements that the town is considering over the course of the next 10 years, including improvements to existing fields, additional handicapped accessible facilities throughout the parks and artificial turf fields for Tamaques Park. The plan also recommends the town’s seasonal ice rink be placed at Memorial Park, and that the municipality expand its usable field space by partnering with the school board.

“You’ve got 10,592 people per field wherein the average of those other 45 communities was 3,833 people,” said Patrick D. Hoagland, principal of Brandstetter Carroll Inc., which drew up the concept plans based on public feedback. Westfield has “three times as many kids playing on those field compared to the other communities.”

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A steering committee identified the following as top priorities, Hoagland’s presentation said:

Existing field improvements
walkways and access
Existing park facility improvements
Memorial Park — Artificial turf fields with lights
Tamaques ParkField house — Wrestling and cheerleading area/football storage and meeting area/restrooms
Edison Intermediate School Improvements — The addition of two full sized artificial turf fields with lights and restrooms
Restrooms at the following locations: Houlihan/Sid Fay Fields, Edison Intermediate School, Elm Street Property, Tamaques Park (New), Tamaques Park (Renovation)
Recreation Center with indoor gym, walking track, fitness areas meeting/event rooms
Parking and Roadway Improvements at the following locations: Houlihan/Sid Fay Fields, Mindowaskin Park, Tamaques Park, Brightwood Park and Memorial Park. (Click here to view a summary of the parks plan.)

The plan proposes the town's temporary ice rink be place in Memorial Park. Its existing location in Gumbert Park has been a concern to neighbors living there.

“You’ve got more parking available here,” Hoagland said, referring to his presentation. “But that’s something to be considered.”

In the 44-acre Brightwood Park, the plan calls for fitness equipment, a small restroom, canoe and kayak boat launches and the addition of mountain bicycle trails, he said.

“You’ve got a mountain bike group that will do that for you,” said Hoagland, referring to the Jersey Off Road Bicycle Association’s, or JORBA, offer to build the trails at no cost to the municipality.

Timothy Van Epp, co-chair of the Westfield Green Team, expressed concern about the plans for Brightwood Park.

“The concept plan focuses a lot on structures,” Van Epp said. “There are half a dozen structures. There is a boat dock. There are bike trails, and my sense is there’s a cumulative impact of that in a relatively small park.”

Removing vegetation around the shorelines of water in the park, Van Epp said, would discourage wading birds from using the area.

MORE: Mountain Bike Group Wants to Help Westfield Build Trail in Brightwood Park

Stephen Kelly, whose home backs up to Brightwood Park, spoke against the plan for mountain bike trails in there.

“I just think that if there are now new mountain bike trails that’s going to be appealing for the people who are riding motor bikes,” Kelly said.

Hoagland replied that signage in the park could indicate the allowable uses of the trail.

Andrew Stillufsen, co-chair of Union County chapter of the JORBA, addressed concern raised by another resident about conflicts biking could pose with other trail uses.

“Mountain bikers understand that trail access can be taken away as easily as it can be given,” said Stillufsen, a Westfield resident. “So, we strongly support trail etiquette: that is yielding to other users, do not build rogue trails and basically be decent people to other people on the trails.”

MORE: Westfield Recreation Commission Kicks Extensive Plan for Field Space to Council

The council approved the plan by a unanimous vote and referred it to the planning board for review, consideration and incorporation in the master plan, which is the town’s guide for overall development. The plans are conceptual, Mayor Shelley Brindle said, responding to the public comments.

“None of these things will go into practice without a more detailed vetting of the plans in each of the parks and input from all of the users, neighbors and so forth,” Brindle said. “I don’t want anyone to think that by us endorsing this tonight it is all happening.”

Two school board members said Board of Education trustees had not been included in initial conversations for the parks plan, which details plans for school board property. However, Brindle said that the school district’s business administrator was on a steering committee for the parks plan and Brindle recently discussed plans with the school district’s superintendent.

Board of Education President Peggy Oster noted the need for collaboration.

“We have to kind of mesh your five and 10-year plan with our five and 10-year plan and do what’s best for the community overall,” Oster told the council.

School board member Brendan Galligan indicated steady enrollment of district schools along with the possibility of full-day kindergarten, something that may require the district to build on existing fields.

“It seems like the Board of Education has been kept in the dark during the development of the comprehensive plan that includes acquiring large portions of our land,” Galligan said. “Collaboration and partnerships require working together from the very beginning. Waiting until after the council approves this plan puts us in a very awkward position.”

Email Matt Kadosh at mkadosh@tapinto.net | Twitter: @MattKadosh

View the full council meeting: