A pocket park proposed by Maplewood resident and former Mayor Fred Profeta is moving forward -- with some changes, after Profeta met with neighbors who expressed reservations about the plan.
Profeta first presented the idea at a January Township Committee meeting, offering to pay $20,000 of the costs of designing and building the park in a small wooded area behind Jefferson School.
However, after hearing of some concerns from neighbors in the area, Profeta agreed to meet with a group of residents of Brook Lane, Beach Place, Brookside Drive, and Durand Road on March 3 to gather input. As a result, Profeta said he had made some changes and alterations to his proposal.
Parts of the plan that would remain include the removal of invasive species and addition of native species of plantings, and resurfacing the existing path -- both of which Profeta told neighbors were conditions of his donation.
What's out? Benches (neighbors said they would encourage loitering teens), the concept of adding "light recreation" to the space, and the originally proposed name of 'Brook Park.'
"I believe everyone at the meeting was generally happy with those proposals, as was I," said Brook Lane resident Gina Patterson, a spokesperson for the neighbors. "Of course, I hope that the area will maintain its natural feel and that any new plantings will be easily maintained, given the town's limited resources."
She said resurfacing was a major need, especially after damage from Hurricane Sandy. She also mentioned drainage problems that need to be addressed.
"We all agreed that benches or any other type of seating are off the table," Patterson said. "I was very concerned about people loitering...I think this partly alleviates concerns about noise, littering and rowdy teenagers."
Lighting is still an area of some controversy. Patterson said that while some of the neighbors are staunchly opposed to adding any lighting, she would be in favor of some "subtle" lighting to improve safety, as long as it wasn't intrusive.
Profeta said he was considering lampposts similar in size to the gaslamps in South Orange, but not gas powered. He said the lights would not shine directly into homes and might be put on timers.
As for the name, Profeta agreed not to call the area a "park," which some neighbors thought would send the wrong message.
"The idea is not to characterize the area as a destination, but rather as an area to be traversed," Profeta explained. "A good name may be 'Brook Path,' which is the way it was referred to many years ago."
He said the group also discussed adding a small walking path along the brook itself, so that people can observe the water without disturbing the plantings.
Profeta said he has the enthusiastic support of Jefferson School Principal Susan Grierson, who discussed student projects such as restocking the brook with small fish. Members of the Maplewood Garden Club also are interesting in participating with choosing plantings. Maintenance of the area will continue to be the responsibility of the township's Department of Public Works.
Overall, Profeta said, the meeting was "cordial" and residents appreciated the chance to offer feedback.
"I do have an overall concern with private funds being used to drive public projects and I am a bit wary of how this process is being carried out," said Patterson. "I want to make sure that the process is transparent and that the neighbors' needs and wishes are taken into account as plans are clarified."