Sunday, May 06, 2007

Planners Unhappy With Park Process

A presentation on improvements to the Madison Avenue playground raised many questions at Thursday’s Planning Board meeting, the biggest one being how the project got moving without prior approval of planners.

The site, bounded by the Raritan Valley Line, Madison Avenue, Central Avenue and West Second Street, is on the city’s Recreation and Open Space Inventory and any changes should have been monitored by the Planning Division. The Planning Board should have reviewed the project both for the capital cost and for consistency with the master plan before work began.

Instead, the city engineer approved the project and parking spaces were increased in what may turn out to be a benefit for a condo project across the street.

In the first of many phases of the project, the number of parking spaces more than tripled, from 11 to 36. However, the $145,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding was only enough to pay for construction up to the point of paving. The new lot is now filled with “dense aggregate,” Eric Mattes of Schoor DePalma said.

Besides finding funds for the paving, money must be found for future phases such as a playground with sections for children ages 2 to 5 and 5 to 12. The design calls for a seat wall with a planter between the two sections. More paving will be done under an existing shelter and sidewalk paths will be made.

Mattes said main concerns included removing a lot of existing asphalt in the park, retaining an existing basketball court and saving several mature oak trees on the site. A four-foot steel picket fence will surround the park.

Planners first asked for a flat rail instead of spikes on top of the fence, but then raised larger questions.

Board member Donna Vose asked why the number of parking spaces was increased to 36 and Mattes said it was requested by the city.

‘That’s why we need a review first,” Vose said.

Board chairman Ken Robertson called the increase “an extraordinary number of parking spaces, because it is eating up green space.”

Robertson asked whether the spaces were for downtown parking, but without a clear answer, he turned to Planning Director Bill Nierstedt and asked, “What are we here for, chopped liver?”

Nierstedt noted the park is almost entirely paved. He said the original design concept was for a parking area off Central Avenue. There was a concern for more green space after the Park-Madison office building was built nearby on a block that had been a park for several years.

Robertson said his question was not answered and pressed to know why the engineer was involved instead of the Planning Division.

“And I’m not going to answer that question,” Nierstedt said.

Robertson asked whether the city knew how many people used the park. Nierstedt said the only thing people could do there was to play basketball, because the rest of the park was asphalt.

Eventually, the discussion turned to the total estimated cost of the project ($500,000) and where the money would come from (unclear). Another concern was whether the project had received state Department of Environmental Protection review.

The 12-unit condo project, which was on the agenda Thursday for memorialization of board approval, had three options, to provide parking on-site, use the Park-Madison parking deck or get city permits. With 18 spaces in two bays at the park, the city might rent out half, which would then involve the Parking Bureau.

The discussion ended as it began, with officials expressing dissatisfaction with the process.

While it was not mentioned at the meeting, the discussion reminded Plaintalker of the flap that arose when the temporary Park-Madison green was inadvertently included in the state DEP roster of green space. A group of open space advocates sued the city and held up construction of the new office building for several years. If in fact it turns out that public funds were expended with the notion of helping a developer get parking for a condo project, sidestepping planning and state approvals, might that also be a problem?

We’re just saying.


Post a Comment

<< Home