Five years after Union County provoked a hail of criticism from Scotch Plains residents and officials by proposing the construction of a petting zoo at the former Ponderosa Farm property on Cooper Road, engineers retained by the county unveiled plans to build two soccer fields, a playground with water sprayers and a refurbished network of asphalt walking paths on the 20-acre parcel.
"A meeting of the minds came to pass," Planning Board chairwoman Paulette Coronato said at a special meeting Tuesday night. "The neighbors met with the County of Union and made suggestions about what they would like to see."
The Planning Board did not vote on the plans. Instead, because the parcel is owned by the county, work can proceed without local approval, Cornato explained. In fact, construction crews have already broken ground at the site, according to engineers Ed Klump and Bob Gregoria, who presented the site plan. Nevertheless, the county is required by law to present the plan to members of the public, board member Joseph Doyle said, and on Tuesday night, the response proved generally positive.
"This is a great idea, and I love what you presented here," said David Schwartz, a resident of Cooper Road.
"I think the park looks charming," agreed Andrew Miller, who also owns a home on Cooper Road. "It's a lovely park. My kids don't play soccer, but if they want to run around the field, it should be a lot of fun."
Schwartz, Miller and others, however, expressed concerns regarding safety in and around the park, specifically with regard to traffic.
"There's no logical place for my child to cross the street to gain access to this park," Scwartz said. "At a minimum, we should be addressing, one, the speed limit, and two, a logical crosswalk that's well-lit, well-marked and possibly both marked and speed-bumped."
Miller added that the park, which will have a single entrance and exit on Cooper Road, could aggravate traffic congestion. "Rush-hour traffic, I can't even get out of my driveway to bring my kids to school," he said.
Mayor Nancy Malool acknowledged that the park could cause backups on Cooper Road, but added that the police department has initiated a traffic study of the 1.7 mile stretch of road.
"We're waiting to hear back from the police their review of a couple of traffic issues," Malool said. If the department recommends reducing the road's speed limit from 35 to 25 miles per hour, "we'll introduce it as an ordinance, there will be a public hearing, people will have an opportunity to comment on it, and then we will vote on it," adding, "The crosswalk is a logical part of that."
Malool also pointed out that the township will control the soccer fields' schedules, meaning that most games likely be scheduled far enough apart to alleviate traffic jams, and that the township will become the de facto primary user of the field.
"I can guarantee you, practically, that we get first crack at them all the time," Malool said. "This is in our backyard, literally, and we have priority playing time there.”
The park will be open from dawn until dusk, Klump and Gregoria said. The driveway and parking lot, which will have 96 spaces, will be lit by 15 ornamental lights, which will measure about 14 feet high. The plans do not call for lights or bleachers on the soccer field. The park is expected to be completed in 12 to 14 months.
Anyone with questions or concerns about the project is asked to contact Victoria Drake, administrator for the Union County Office of Open Space, Recreation and Historic Preservation Trust Fund, by calling 908-558-2277 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.