WESTFIELD, NJ — Local ice hockey proponents netted themselves a win at the Recreation Commission meeting Monday night.
The Recreation Commission on Monday recommended that a tented and seasonal ice rink that operated in Gumbert Park for four months last winter be returned to the park for a time to be determined by the Town Council.
In its first season, the rink had drawn widespread praise from the burgeoning hockey community in Westfield but prompted quality-of-life complaints from neighbors living near to the facility, something the commission’s members considered as it voted 7 to 2 to recommend the council renew the town’s agreement with Union Sports Arena for the rink’s return.
“We’re going to try to improve on what we did last year,” said Recreation Commission Chairman Gary Fox. “I think we could do a better job than we did last year, and I think the intention of the commission is to improve on what we did last year.”
Commissioners Larry McDermott and Peter Echausse cast the dissenting votes, arguing that the impacts on the neighborhood are too adverse even if the rink does not occupy the park space during the entire year.
“Let’s get real,” Echausse said. “It’s going to become permanent until we build something else.”
Brad Rothenberg was among the majority of commissioners to approve the return of the rink.
While Rothenberg recognized the neighbors’ concerns about noise, aesthetics and traffic, he cited findings from the rink’s operator, Union Sports Arena, that the other places in Westfield are not feasible.
“We have a choice of Gumbert Park next year or we shut down a bunch of hockey teams next year. I don’t want to be the vote that does that,” Rothenberg said.
The decision on bringing back a tented ice rink to a park on the border of Garwood heads to the Town Council, which itself was divided on its decision last year to bring the rink to Gumbert Park.
Numerous residents from both Westfield and Garwood spoke at length on the topic Monday night with some detailing the community benefits of the facility and others voicing concerns about neighborhood impacts.
Susan Levy, who lives on Salter Place, was among those with arguments against the rink.
“I myself like to ski,” Levy said. “I myself would like to see a ski jump being put in Gumbert Park. I think a ski jump in Gumbert Park would really be awesome, but a ski jump in Gumbert Park just doesn’t make sense just like a hockey rink in Gumbert Park doesn’t make sense.”
Both boys and girls hockey players made use of the Westfield Rink in its first season.
Plymouth Road resident Beth Hornstein was among residents to tout the benefits of the local rink for the girls ice hockey program, which has included the reduced need for lengthy trips out of town for practices and an increased interest in the sport.
“It was not until we had the use of the Westfield Rink this past season that we really took off,” she said.
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