Upset over a plan for green space to be paved over for a new parking lot at 46th Street Field, North Bergen residents have proposed an alternate plan. However, officials are already moving forward with their original plan for the park.
Two township residents presented an alternate plan to Mayor Nicholas Sacco and the Board of Commissioners at its August 17 meeting. Resident Alex Shank again voiced his opposition to the original plan to the board, but this time provided an alternative.
Residents rally against current plans
Shank was among the many residents who opposed the ordinance that utilizes a $500,000 Hudson County Open Space Trust Fund grant for the improvements when it was introduced. He and others were in favor of renovating the park, but asked the township to preserve green space and native trees there among other objections to the original plan.
Amid the pleas to rethink the renovations, contrasted by a handful of residents speaking in support of the original plan, the board adopted the ordinance at a special meeting in July. The township had applied for the grant funding to renovate the park in 2021.
At the August 17 meeting, Shank said other residents wanted to speak against the original plan too, but couldn’t because it was at 11 a.m. He added that over 150 residents have signed a petition in opposition, including people who live near 46th Street Field.
Shank said fellow outspoken resident Hailey Benson helped design an alternate plan for the park that addresses some of their concerns, such as preventing the dog run from being reduced by about 40 percent and preserving mature native trees. Benson first thanked the commissioners for proposing an improvement design at 46th Street Field before presenting the alternate plan.
“While there are many residents that appreciate the current design, there are also many residents that are concerned about the cutting of the mature native trees on the property,” Benson said. “In the spirit of community and support for our township, we’ve taken the time to work with a landscaping and architect graduate to create a solution that takes into consideration everyone’s hopes for the park while allowing compromise.”
The new plan envisions the parking lot in the same location but rotated by 90 degrees. The parking lot would feature 16 total spaces, the legal requirement and only a slight decrease of five spaces from the original plan.
The dog run would remain larger with the new parking lot design, Benson said, in a 48 by 71 foot area. In addition, the dog run in the alternate plan would be grass instead of turf to prevent dogs’ paws from getting burnt.
Preserving native trees and other changes
Benson said there are a number of mature native trees in the park that would be saved under her proposal, including four pitch pines, two native maple trees, and a black cherry tree. She added that none of the trees show signs of decay and are alive and well.
Benson addressed the alleged need to cut the maple trees down to install piping for the water park, noting there’s a nearby hydrant may be more suitable for a water connection instead. Using that would only require a small reconfiguration of the water park to be closer to the street, would allow the extended of the planting bed for the trees, and would also redirect paths to be smoother and add benches in the shade provided by the trees. Shade tolerant plantings would replace existing rock beds.
While the alternate plan keeps all the amenities planned for the baseball field by the township, there are a few other changes, including keeping the trees along the field to provide natural shade instead of shade structures planned by the township. The alternate plan also seeks to have the baseball field be a more sustainable material instead of regular turf due to the extreme heat it will generate, such a cork turf or geo fill made from coconut fibers.
In the alternate plan, the park paths would be a rubber aggregate path to promote comfort. The paths can flex to harsh changes in temperature and are also easier to repair.
Lastly, the alternate plan calls for the addition of more native trees and plants, proposing 20 compared to the smaller number of non-native trees in the original plan. Benson was nearly complete with her presentation when she was cut off by the board, having exceeded the time limit allotted for public speakers.
Other residents vocalize opposition
Stephanie Martinez also advocated for the new park proposal. “Why pave over most of that green space that was already there?” she said.
While Martinez applauded James J. Braddock North Hudson County Park for being a great green space, she argued all parks across the township should offer the same. She took issue with the way that 10th Street Park and Policeman’s Park had grass that was paved over.
“Nature should be accessible to all, not just to certain people living in certain areas,” Martinez said. “Nature is for everyone, and it is our duty to maintain its accessibility to all.”
Rev. Steven Germoso, a resident of 46th Street and the pastor at Grove Reformed Church on the corner of the street and Kennedy Boulevard, praised the township for what they do for residents, but spoke in favor of the alternate plan for the park. He has two kids who enjoy the park.
“The original plan seems to cut down and replace the old growth trees, pave the grass there,” Germoso said. “That part of North Bergen I love, but there’s no grass on the side of the street, there’s no trees… Even for the people who don’t use the part, it is a place of oasis or refreshment… Once we lose this green area, even though it’s modest, once we lose those trees, we can’t pass that on to our neighbors.”
Resident Steven Morales also lives in the block. He moved to North Bergen in 2019, when he purchased his first home in the township.
“When I found 46th Street Park, it was like a new little haven,” Morales said. “I got a dog and go there pretty much every day for the past two years. It’s been really nice and I’ve met a lot of friends and I enjoy the trees just as everyone else… I’m urging you to reconsider because those trees are older than 40 years old… To kill those would be like killing a 60 or 70-year-old grandparent… It just doesn’t make sense because of the character it adds to the park and to the community.”
Some in favor of the plans
At the meeting, Dan Torino spoke in favor of the township’s plan, addressing the board with two children next to him.
“The kids that I got here, they grew up in the park and they enjoy the park,” Torino said. “They come and play in the basketball courts, on the playground, on the baseball field. The trees they’re talking about could also be dangerous because the branches could fall on the kids… because they’re pretty old. These kids want the park to be built because they want to play there in the future… And some of the areas that some people come, they don’t even come to enjoy the park. All they do is come walk the dog. They don’t even bother putting a blanket on the grass to enjoy the park. There’s a lot of people here, they never come to the park, but they speak. So we want the park to be built.”
“Yeah,” the children chimed in.
Torino concluded: “The more you delay the park, the longer it’s going to take for them to have fun.”
In response to a question by another resident in favor of the original plan, Sacco confirmed the township had already adopted the ordinance using the grant funding.
“The money’s in place,” Sacco said.
“We’ve been moving forward alright,” Commissioner Hugo Cabrera said. Cabrera noted that there was a public hearing where residents could have addressed concerns and that most people approve of the original plan which he said included public input.
“We had a hearing, they’ve been moving forward,” Sacco added. The project needs to go out to bid before construction can begin. After that work is anticipated to be completed and the park reopened in 2023.
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