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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

County's Cedar Brook Park proposal tonight at HPC

The proposal would put two new artificial turf fields
in the area between the pine tree icon and Cedar Court.

Union County's proposed improvements to Plainfield's Cedar Brook Park are on the agenda for tonight's Historic Preservation Commission meeting in City Hall Library at 7:30 PM. The agenda can be viewed online here.

The proposal is being continued from last month where it was initially presented but was carried over owing to the lateness of the hour and more information being requested by the Commission.

I wrote about that meeting and outlined the county's proposal in an earlier post (see here). The proposed improvements include two new artificial turf fields (one soccer only, and one combination football/soccer) and a drainage system for same, night lighting, bleachers and removable fencing to enclose the fields.

The proposed improvements would necessitate the removal of a number of trees as well as the installation of 80' poles for night lighting.

Well into their presentation at the November meeting, county officials introduced maps (from the 1920s?) showing that sports fields were in use in the earliest days of the Olmsted-designed and landmarked park. The maps, however, were not submitted to the Commission as an exhibit, which is a shame because they would help to reinforce the County's case.

I spoke at that meeting in favor of the turf proposal -- though I am not a particular fan of artificial turf, which must be replaced periodically and studies have shown is harder on athletes than grass fields.

My reason for supporting turf fields was that Plainfield is woefully short of soccer fields and the recreational equity demanded by the city's changing demographics would begin to be addressed by the proposed new fields.

I also brought up the annual mass events at the park (the R&B By The Brook festival and the annual July 4th Fireworks) which meant that any fencing must be removable to accommodate the large crowds.

But the lighting proposal gave me pause.

The park has always operated on Union County's rules: it is for dawn-to-dusk activity. All sports activities take place in daylight hours and conclude when it is too dark to play. (When I was a kid, we even had a 'twilight baseball league,' whose games were played before dark.)

Then there was the fact that the County was proposing 80-foot towers. No rendering was offered to the Commission to show the scale of the proposed lighting, existing trees and houses in the neighborhood.

I checked out the light towers at Seidler Field, the only field in Plainfield with night lighting. I was told they are 70-foot poles, making them considerably shorter than the county's proposal. Though focused on the field, there is light spillage affecting the nearby homes.

Seidler Field light poles, shorter than those proposed for
Cedar Brook Park, tower over the neighborhood.

To my mind, the proposed lighting is unnecessary and intrusive, given the historic use of the park dawn-to-dusk only and the likelihood of an adverse impact on neighboring homes (notwithstanding the County's assertions to the contrary). In addition, the towers would literally tower over everything in the park, visually changing its character completely.

Less importantly, the trees whose removal is being proposed are part of the fabric of the park as designed and intended by the Olmsted firm -- which makes it a landmark in the first place.

So, I would hope that a close examination of this aspect of the proposal is being made, making sure that only absolutely necessary removals are done and that there are plans to "mitigate" (as resident Gerry Heydt said) the effects of their removal.

The public is encouraged to attend the meeting and will have an opportunity for questions and comments.

The meeting is in City Hall Library. Parking and entrance are at the rear of City Hall, Watchung Avenue and East 6th Street.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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