Millstone tables park ordinance

Millstone is considering an ordinance that would prohibit ball-field lights and a loudspeaker at Wagner Farm Park.

By: Sarah Winkelman
   MILLSTONE — A proposed ordinance that would prohibit ballpark lights and a loudspeaker at Wagner Farm Park has been tabled after a group of residents objected to the effect it could have on future athletic programs there.
   After receiving a petition signed by 147 residents, township Committeeman Elias Abilheira decided to postpone the introduction of the ordinance in order to get more feedback from residents.
   "We need to get input and information from residents before we proceed," he said.
   The petition states that residents want Wagner Farm Park to be used for Millstone athletic activities such as a Pop Warner football team for the township.
   "Families are anxious to get a (Pop Warner) program started in town and have their own league so they don’t have to travel to Allentown for practices and games," Winding Creek Drive resident Michelle Muraski said at the Jan. 7 Township Committee meeting. She presented the petition to the committee.
   The ordinance was drawn up by Committeeman John Pfefferkorn after the township received another, earlier petition from residents of Wagner Farm Lane and Roberts Road asking the committee to prohibit lights and loudspeakers at Wagner Farm Park, as well as limit the park’s hours of operation, to control the possible negative effects the park could have on the area’s quality of life.
   The park’s 7,300-square-foot building currently houses an indoor multipurpose recreation facility. The park also includes soccer, football and lacrosse fields, walking and horse trails, ball fields and a playground.
   According to Ms. Muraski, the Planning Board approved a loudspeaker that would face Woodville Road in August 2001.
   "We were told the lighting issue would be discussed when it was needed," she said. "This ordinance would hinder our ability to operate a Pop Warner team. We need to support athletic programs in our own town."
   She asked the committee to consider the needs of the community and its children.
   "It is a waste of money and a disservice to the town if the lights and a loudspeaker system are not installed," Ms. Muraski said. "Without the lights and the public address system, the park can only be used during daylight hours, which are very limited during the fall and winter months."
   Mayor Nancy Grbelja said the committee would give residents time to voice their concerns. She said she also wanted to hear from residents living near Wagner Farm Park.
   "In the last two years I remember plans for the park and when the Planning Board was asked about lighting they said there wasn’t going to be any," she said.
   She added the Board of Education is putting together a school referendum that would include a lighted athletic facility at a new middle school on Waters Lane.
   "One idea would be to have the Recreation Commission work with the school to come to an agreement," she said. "However, we need time to talk to all the parties involved and find a solution that satisfies everyone."
   Committeeman William Nurko said the proposals for the park always included playing field lighting.
   "The Planning Board said they had no plans for lights at the time, but in the planning of the park they laid conduits in the ground so that in the future if someone wanted to put lights up they wouldn’t have to dig up the sod and disturb the irrigation system," he said. "There was a lot of forethought and planning that went into this."
   Don Powell of Agress Road, who also is chairman of the town’s Recreation Commission, said the Wagner Farm Park athletic complex always was wired for lighting.
   "The deed says the Township Committee has the final say about the lights and a loudspeaker in there, but the Planning Board did approve it," he said. "In order to have a Pop Warner football team in town we are going to need both. The commission hopes a Pop Warner team can come to Millstone."
   Mr. Powell said the loudspeaker will be used on Sundays from September to November.
   "That is a really short window of time," he said.
   Matt Deiner of Deer Trail Drive agreed.
   "I’m on the Recreation Commission and I coach lacrosse in town," he told the committee Jan. 7. "Wagner Farm Park is a crown jewel park. I’ve traveled the tri-county area and I can honestly say Wagner Farm Park is a beautiful facility."
   He added that playing field lights generally are part of sports facilities.
   "I know neighbors are concerned and I would like to avoid a problem, but we need to encourage sports in town," Mr. Deiner said.
   He also voiced some concerns about how the proposed ordinance was handled.
   "This is happening awfully quickly," he said. "I just found out about this plan two days ago. I would have appreciated notification about what you were considering, particularly how it will impact the recreation program. No one contacted me or the Recreation Commission, which is very concerning."
   He said he hoped there would be more open communication in the future.
   "If we close the door on lighting for the park we will cut out one of the primary uses and the park will never be used to its fullest extent," he said.
   Speaking as a homeowner living near the park, Nick Gold of Wagner Farm Lane said he was never told lighting would be installed at the park.
   "I’m all for sports but on our house deed it doesn’t say anything about lighting or a loudspeaker," he said. "When we bought our house we called the township about the park and they said they didn’t know anything about it either."
   He added that he also was concerned about the proposed new middle school on Waters Lane.
   "Waters Lane and Wagner Farm Lane are getting very crowded, what with the plans for a new middle schools, athletic fields over there and Wagner Farm Park," he said. "That’s an awful lot of stuff for such a small area. It’s too much."
   Mr. Abilheira said one way to avoid future confusion over these issues is to improve the lines of communication between the township and its residents.