Council members debated the need for more parks, and residents complained about artificial turf at a local park, at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.
The council also voted unanimously to pass several legal contracts and a contract for a parking consultant (see briefs).
For the second meeting in a row, the council discussed what to do with funds that would be obtained from a proposed open-space tax that takes 20 cents out of every $1,000 of property in Hoboken. The proposed tax was passed by the council in June and will go to the ballot in November.
However, council members Dawn Zimmer and Peter Cunningham have proposed a new version that will focus on adding more open space in town rather than using some of the money to maintain the existing open space, as is directed in the present resolution.
The Zimmer/Cunningham proposal was debated for over an hour on Wednesday, but Zimmer and Cunningham eventually opted to reword their version and will introduce it at a later meeting.
The open space tax option
Cunningham and Zimmer wanted to amend the current resolution by having the fund used solely for the acquisition of new land, of which 25 percent would be used for the development of that new land.
The original resolution said that 2 cents on every $100 of property tax will be used towards maintenance of existing parks as well as acquisition of new property.
If the Zimmer/Cunningham resolution was approved by the council, the voters would decide on the newly proposed resolution on the November ballot in place of the previously approved resolution passed by the council in June.
“If we allocate money from this tax to the maintenance of existing parks, we might as well just pass a tax,” said Cunningham. “This resolution puts it in the hands of people for a very specific project, and that’s to acquire new property and set aside up to 25 percent to develop that land.”
Reacting to the newly proposed resolution, 6th Ward Councilman Angelo Giacchi, as well as several other council members, objected to having maintenance for existing parks struck from the resolution, arguing that the vision was short-sighted.
“I want the open space; I want the additional fields; I want them tomorrow,” said Giacchi. “[But] by taking out maintenance, what we’re doing is allowing the parks that exist to go into disrepair and to deteriorate at the expense of having new open space.”
He added that the proposed resolution would directly benefit the 2nd, 4th, and 5th Wards, which still have open space that can be acquired. However, it is asking residents in his ward and others that do not have space, but do have existing parks, to pay without getting something in return.
Second Ward Councilwoman Elizabeth Mason argued that due to the small size of Hoboken, the issue isn’t a ward issue, but rather one that affects the entire city, where residents frequently go to different parks.
First Ward Councilwoman Theresa Castellano, who rattled off the square footage of over 20 existing Hoboken parks, argued that with that amount of property already in the city’s possession, it’s in the entire community’s best interest to have funds available for required renovations that arise over time.
The council president said she would oppose any new tax on residents that in her mind would not “benefit the entire community.”
Cunningham and Zimmer decided to take the advice of Corporation Counsel Steven Kleinman, who suggested they remove the item from the agenda and reword it so it includes language regarding both acquisition and maintenance of property without being so specific.
The pair will present the resolution Monday at the next council meeting, Monday, Aug. 20 at 7 p.m. The meeting will also concern the municipal garage on Observer Highway.
If the measure is approved by the residents in November, the council, after holding a public hearing about the matter, can vote on where funds should go and what the percentages should be.
Also at the meeting, residents complained about new artificial turf that is being installed at Church Square Park in the middle of town. Some also spoke out to support the turf, which has recently generated letters to the Reporter.
The resurfacing of the northeast corner of the park had to be done to the area where the grass had worn away to dirt, according to city officials. But some residents were concerned over the disappearance of the grassy areas in the park.
Residents complained that the artificial surface could reach extremely high temperatures, making it impossible for people to walk on it in the heat, as well as cause infection to children who cut themselves on it.
Residents also expressed concern over the surface’s ability to absorb rainwater.
According to Department of Environmental Services representative Jim Ronga, who was speaking on behalf of Director Joe Peluso, the surface has miniscule holes that can absorb 40 inches of rain over a two-day period.
According to Mary Ondrejka, a resident who had been present at a City Hall meeting that took place earlier in the day between Mayor Roberts and several other concerned residents, the mayor intends to look into alternative ways in which to increase the amount of grass in the park, such as by removing the park’s popular basketball courts.
Ondrejka went on to accuse the mayor of already beginning the process of moving the courts out of the park and into The Demarest School, describing Roberts as “Someone who works under a cloak of secrecy.”
Roberts said that he had no intention of moving Church Square’s courts anywhere and that he was in the process of talking with the school superintendent to create more playgrounds for children.
In regards to the laying of the turf, which came as a result of several meetings between the administration and schools in the area, Roberts said, “Kids are going to love playing on this, and the rest of the park is going to remain grass.”
Roberts pledged that in the future there would be more public discourse before changes were made to parks, adding that the city would post bulletin boards in parks where construction was being considered in order to foster feedback from the community.
Lots of speakers
Due to the recent slew of late running meetings, residents and other council members asked Council President Theresa Castellano to impose a five-minute limit on public speakers, which she did.
Castellano also requested that her fellow council members respond with more concise answers and not engage in a verbal exchange with members of the public.
Councilman-At-Large Ruben Ramos Jr. was absent from the meeting due to his scheduled vacation.
Michael Mullins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.