No Changes to Parks Without Public Hearings and Consensus

Dear Editor,

In response to the letter from Laura Burkhart regarding the Hoboken Family Alliance (HFA) / Project Play (PP) initiative to make changes to 3 existing play areas in Church Square Park (CSP), we want to remind Hoboken’s citizens of the consequences of private groups working behind the scenes with City officials to make major changes to parks without the public being aware of the changes until they are underway and cannot be stopped. Such changes to CSP include the new toddler area, monkey bar area, and Astroturf, which eliminated almost all of the grass and greenery from the northeastern quadrant. Several mature trees were killed to make way for these artificial props and surfaces, including the oldest and largest tree in CSP. The Roberts administration made these changes without public notice, hearings, or any attempt to see whether a majority of Hoboken citizens wanted them.

Many citizens were outraged by this destruction of CSP’s historic green and natural character and this violation of democratic process. We lobbied for an ordinance preventing changes to parks without public notice, hearings, and consensus, which was implemented as Chapter 56A of the municipal code.

Our present concern is that PP has proceeded for several months, reportedly meeting privately with the City Council Parks / Recreation Subcommittee and the Department of Environmental Services Director who have encouraged PP to the point where PP is soliciting private funding for the project, with minimal public disclosure of the project’s details. Ms. Burkhart has revealed only that HFA/PP “proposes to replace defective and dangerous playground equipment in three sections of Church Square Park” at a cost of about $500,000 which will be largely subsidized through “private fundraising and grants”.

Reports of the initiative in Hoboken Progress reveal that $150,000 of this expenditure involves replacing and extending the rubberized surfaces that already cover two of the three areas and much of the third. The remaining $350,000 will be spent replacing existing equipment (which, according to the group, is “dangerous” because the wooden planks have weathered and some screws have loosened slightly), replacing existing fences with much taller fences, and introducing pavers branded with the names of corporate sponsors into sidewalks and other project boundaries.

We wonder why the existing surfaces and equipment need to be replaced (as opposed to repaired), high fences need to be installed (which will detract from the CSP’s open aesthetic), and pavers with corporate branding introduced at such a huge expense?

But we really don’t know what the real plan is, since it has not been revealed by HFA/PP. Our greatest concern is that the horrible degradation of CSP that occurred under the Roberts Administration is not repeated. Before any decisions are made to implement the HFA/PP proposed changes to CSP, properly advertised public hearings must be held, the proposed projects fully disclosed and discussed, and public approval demonstrated. To avoid disastrous and unpopular degradation of our historic parks, we must ensure that the proper democratic process required by law is followed.

Dan Tumpson
Cheryl Fallick

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