Several residents in the area where a new pocket park has been proposed spoke out against the plan at Tuesday night's Maplewood Township Committee meeting.
Former Deputy Mayor Fred Profeta made the offer at a recent township committee meeting to pay for up to $20,000 (or roughly half) of the initial costs of creating the park, which would consist of adding benches, landscaping and lighting to a small wooded area behind Jefferson School.
While the speakers took pains to commend Profeta's generosity, they urged the committee to preserve the secluded, undeveloped nature of the spot.
"This (park) would devalue the essence of what (the area) is," said Scott Beatty, a resident of Woodland Road. He argued a park would also exacerbate an existing problem of teenagers who congregate and drink alcohol on weekend evenings.
One newer resident of Brook Lane said it was the "magical" quality of the area that drew her to live in the neighborhood.
Reading from a letter he sent to Profeta, Noel Siegel of Brook Lane said "I applaud and commend your charitable thinking" but he hoped he would "consider modifiying...his concept."
"I'm disappointed that no one approached us," said Brook Lane resident Tina Squyres, who called the area "gorgeous in its simplicity and rustic nature."
"I am imploring you...to steel yourselves to refuse his offer," she said, adding the money could be better spent on improving other, existing parks in town.
Township Historian Susan Newberry, who lives on Durand Road, said she was "overwhelmed" by Profeta's generosity but she fears turning the area into an official town park "would actually negate (its) special quality."
Mayor Vic DeLuca stressed the committee was "a long way away toward making a final decision" on the project, and members had told Profeta he would need to get community buy-in before moving forward.
In an email to Patch, Profeta said he had been waiting for the South Orange-Maplewood School District to grant the township an easement for the part of the property that is school-owned. The district granted preliminary approval last week.
"I have already promised the town and the neighbors to whom I have talked that I would be speaking to them," he said. Profeta said he will fine tune his plans in light of some comments and then have a "comprehensive dialogue" with them.
Profeta said people he had spoken to were overwhelmingly in favor of the proposal.
However, he said, "While the neighbors are extremely important stakeholders, the property belongs to the whole town and the views of other likely users are also relevant."
He noted when he served on the township committee, the members approved a Community Garden behind town hall despite neighborhood opposition, "and it has turned out to be a significant benefit to everyone...We should all now be especially attuned to the reasons for neighborhood opposition in light of what a few residents did to a perfectly wonderful plan for renovation of the Woman's Club."
Regarding the teenage drinking problem, Profeta said he believes better lighting might alleviate the problem. He said since teens congregate there now, "I don't see how the addition of a few nice benches will change the situation. And making the place more attractive will cut down on the litter."
Profeta said while he is open to making some modifications to accommodate what he termed "reasonable objections" from residents, "I will not divert my financial offer to some other park project in Maplewood."
He continued, "This area has had special meaning for me since my childhood as a Jefferson student...While I can, I will continue to donate time and money to the only hometown I have ever had, but I will not abandon this project. The township committee will ultimately decide whether or not it goes forward."