Mayor Nicholas Sacco and the North Bergen Board of Commissioners introduced an ordinance at the June 22 meeting to appropriate grant funds for improvements to 46th Street Field.
The ordinance would see the use of $500,000 from the Hudson County Open Space Trust Fund for the 46th Street Field Improvement Project. The township previously applied for the grant funding back in December of 2021.
According to Sacco, the project also has the support of the state of New Jersey. He said that there was approximately $5 million in the state budget for the field improvements.
Planned park upgrades
The park is currently home to a playground, a basketball court, a baseball field, and a pedestrian walkway surrounding the baseball field as well as other amenities.
For the park area, the township is looking to: put in new playground equipment; resurface the basketball courts and outfit them with new backboards and rims; install new sheltered park benches; create an expanded splash park; repave the pedestrian walkway; repave the parking lot and add new spaces; install a trench system for draining; renovate the restrooms and storage building; relocate the dog run; create a new regular seating area; install new fencing; repair the existing staircase; and install new in-ground trash receptacles throughout the park.
For the ball field area, the North Bergen is seeking to: install synthetic turf for both baseball and softball that includes a synthetic shock absorption for safety; put in a drainage system; replace the light fixtures and fencing; install a press box, covered bleachers, an on-field ball pens and new dugouts.
However, despite the planned upgrades, some residents took issue with the new parking lot that is part of the plan. Resident Alex Shank said the open space that would be paved over to make the parking lot was important to residents.
‘Don’t pave this portion of the park’
Normally meetings are devoid of any public comment, sometimes with attendance only consisting of the board and members of the media, this time was different. The chambers were packed with residents, although few actually spoke.
“I’m here with several other residents of 46th Street Park,” Shank said. “I understand that you have a plan that has some really great things in it… However, we have a few concerns because there’s a beautiful space there.”
According to Shank, the green area currently defined by a path and shade trees is a valuable space to those who use the park.
“The issue is, if you pave over this space and you chop down the trees there, you’re going to eliminate some really joyful moments that kids have,” Shank said. “Kids play soccer, play baseball with their parents, and play tag there. It’s really a matter of urban justice. We live in an urban area, so some kids don’t have backyards to play in. For some kids in this neighborhood in particular, that’s the only green space they can play in.”
Shank argued there was already a parking lot there for the baseball field, and that the lot should be more strictly enforced against residents in the neighborhood who park there regularly.
“I understand that that the baseball community… they want to park there,” Shank said. “They want to park in that area, but we already have a parking lot there… The township can do a better job of managing that park lot to make sure that our guests have the space that they need to park. The current parking lot has about 30 to 40 spaces… Parking enforcement there would mean that our baseball field would have the space that they need to park and we wouldn’t have to destroy that beautiful incalculably valuable green space. We live in an urban area. If we destroy this green space, as a township we’re going to regret it.”
More Green Acres issues?
In addition, Shank said he spoke with Green Acres about the site, and that they told him that a public hearing may be necessary. The township is currently involved in the diversion of Green Acres’ park land in Braddock Park to allow the permanent existence of the preschool on the site.
“The park falls under the Green Acres program, and they said that really needs a public hearing,” Shank said. “For this type of move that the township is planning, there should be a public hearing. I’d ask you to consider that. It’s called a change in use public hearing. I think that’s what the state asks that we do so that we can really hear the voice of the residents.”
“No they don’t,” Sacco said. He later added that Green Acres had looked at the plans and been okay with them.
“Oh I’m sorry, I must have misunderstood from the Green Acres representative,” Shank retorted. “I look forward to clarifying that.“
Shank continued, adding that creating more parking would only bring more cars and worsen the parking problem.
“If we build another parking lot, it’s not really going to solve the problem,” Shank said. “It’s called induced demand. If you build another street or parking lot in an urban area, it’s just going to fill up and we’ll have the same problem that we have now in the current existing parking lot. I think if we manage what we have now, this big parking lot that’s at the top of the park, we can solve the problem and maintain the green space for residents.”
Officials support park renovations
Shank also contended the plan had been modified as early as the morning before the meeting. However, officials noted the plans will continue to change, Commissioner Hugo Cabrera said. Shank thanked him hoping it was in response to residents’ concerns, but Cabrera noted the parking lot was still there.
“There’s still a parking lot there, because you actually do need a parking lot for the people,” Cabrera said. “We’re actually going to increase the spray park by twice the size… It’s not really fair for the people that have to walk all the way up to the other parking lot when they can park closer. So you actually do need a parking lot there.”
“It’s a relatively small park,” Shank said, arguing the extra parking was not needed. “People can park at the current parking lot and walk down to where the spray park is. I don’t think any resident I’ve talked to… has expressed that concern. But I look forward to discussing that further, if that’s what the town’s motivation is. I just don’t think another parking lot at the sacrifice of our green space is worth it.”
Cabrera noted that while nine trees were being removed, 15 were being added. But Shank took issue with the trees lining the road instead of the green space they do now. He then delivered a petition to the board with 150 signatures, in addition to a letter penned by environmental group the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club.
Defending the parking situation
In response to the claims about parking enforcement, Sacco invited North Bergen parking Authority Executive Director Bob Basilice to address the subject.
“We enforce the parking lot,” Basilice said. “We’ve been asked to kind of balance with the residents as well as the park goers… If there are events, we tend to issue a warning. There is signage that says from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. the spaces are for the park and for events. If there’s no event, my officers will allow them to remain parking there.”
Another resident, Ryan Hughes, also spoke against the plans: “I’m a lifelong resident of North Bergen. My children live in the facility that overlooks this park… North Bergen does not have a lot of green space. I believe taking this away is going to be bad because not a lot of people want to trek up to 80th Street Park or can they. Having a place where people can go and sit in the shade and actually feel like they’re outside of North Bergen for a little bit, I think it’s important.”
Sacco and Cabrera noted cars park in the area for baseball games all the time and that grass does not grow in the area because of that. In response, Hughes quipped: “So because it doesn’t grow very well, we just pave over it?”
“People park there because they have to,” Cabrera hit back. “It’s not enough parking. And now, when we open up the spray park, You’re going to need parking. That’s the biggest problem.”
Board advances park plans
Sacco ridiculed the idea of not utilizing money from the state to redo the park: “The state is giving us between $4.6 and $4.9 million, that I requested from the governor and it’s in the budget. We don’t have to match it. The county is giving us a half a million dollars from the Open Space Trust Fund. This is the first time in history, someone is saying don’t take the money from the state and don’t fix the problem.”
Hughes said he was all for the park renovations minus the parking lot. Officials said that they have presented these plans to the community at multiple events to only positive feedback, with one official noting those in attendance were “in the minority.” Following that, resident Joe Lombardi spoke in favor of the proposal.
“I think adding the additional parking lot right next to all of the expanded amenities would be a big improvement,” Lombardi said. “It would be more of a welcome to everybody to come and enjoy all the new improvements. It would be a far walk from where the other parking lot would be. I think accommodations were made on both sides already about replacing the trees. If there is going to be all this nitpicking on little things, this won’t get done and that’s unfair to the kids of North Bergen. They deserve this project… I don’t think there should be any hold up.”
The board then voted unanimously to introduce the ordinance. A public hearing on it will be held at the board’s July 13 meeting at 6 p.m. in the municipal chambers in Town Hall at 4233 Kennedy Boulevard. For more information, go to northbergen.org.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.