Resident challenges Vidas Park project in court

Staff Writer

Staff Writer

MIGUEL JUAREZ staff Worker Feliciano Santos sees to the final details of the irrigation system for the new baseball field in Vidas Park, Metuchen.MIGUEL JUAREZ staff Worker Feliciano Santos sees to the final details of the irrigation system for the new baseball field in Vidas Park, Metuchen.

METUCHEN — Construction on a new park in the borough is raising the hackles of at least one resident.

Vidas Park, located on a former industrial site at the corner of Hampton Street and Durham Avenue across from the borough’s temporary offices, is slated to open this fall, but legal proceedings and unexpected title issues may keep that from happening.

The park is named for former Borough Engineer Vidas Ramanauskas, who was working on the park plan when he passed away a few years ago.

The land was purchased for $450,000 through a grant from the county’s open space trust fund, according to borough officials.

Hampton Street resident John C. Allen, an attorney practicing out of New Brunswick, filed an order to show cause in state Superior Court, New Brunswick, April 6.

"He wanted us to cease and desist with the project," Mayor Ed O’Brien said recently.

Allen outlined his concerns in a recent phone interview.

"I don’t have any problems with a park there," he said, "but it’s got to be done in a way that doesn’t affect our quality of life."

Allen claimed that one of his neighbors is even having trouble selling a house on Hampton, "where a park should actually increase the value."

In a separate interview, O’Brien said transforming the land from a "decaying industrial site" to a park could only improve land values and overall quality of life in the immediate area.

Part of Allen’s concerns stem from his allegations that the borough has kept residents in the dark about the specifics of the site plan.

"They never gave any real notification to the neighboring landowners," he said.

Allen alleges the park was originally planned to contain two soccer fields, but at some point was changed to one soccer field and one Little League baseball field.

O’Brien responded that after input from the recreation commission and the community, it was determined that the borough needed another Little League field.

Allen said he and some neighbors are concerned about the proximity of home plate to their property.

"It’s literally 20 to 30 feet from certain people’s front doors," he said, expressing concern about "the risk of errant baseballs hitting cars, homes or even people."

Allen said he doesn’t understand why the borough would place the baseball diamond so close to the street, and the soccer field in the rear, when the problem could have been solved by simply flipping the two.

O’Brien countered that the backstop is 20 to 30 feet from the street, which itself is roughly 50 feet wide, and noted the existence of high backstop fencing.

"If there is a need for additional backstop fencing, we would add it," the mayor said.

O’Brien said the field would be used by Little Leaguers with a maximum age of 12.

"If this was a high school field, he [Allen] may have a point," adding that for errant fly balls to travel beyond the backstop fencing into people’s front yards, "it’s going to take some kind of young Barry Bonds."

Regarding the placement of the baseball field, O’Brien noted that engineering factors had to determine which part of the site would be appropriate to drive the necessary pilings into the ground.

Allen also raised parking concerns.

"We already have parking problems on Hampton," he said, pointing out that two churches are also on the relatively short thoroughfare. Allen said the existing parking area would be capable of accommodating only between 10 to 15 cars, and insisted Hampton would not be able to handle the overflow if two games were being planned simultaneously.

O’Brien said the parking lot will accommodate 20 to 30 cars, and added that people park on surrounding streets when attending games at every other field in town. "Will people park on the street? He may not like it, but it’s a public street," O’Brien said.

Allen also raised the possibility of soil contamination at the former industrial site.

O’Brien said the borough has "put a 4 foot [soil] cap on a cap that’s already there," and that the state’s Department of Environmental Protection has cleared the site. "They had no problem [with it]."

Allen claimed that the borough had insisted there would not be lights installed or night games scheduled, but is now suddenly noncommittal about the possibility.

"I told him there is no money for lights; it was never in the plan," O’Brien responded.

"It would seriously affect our recreation budget. We don’t have the money to put lights in even if we wanted to. Now, I can’t predict what’s going to happen 20 years from now, but this administration has no intention of installing lights."

Finally, Allen hinted that title is­sues may tie up proceedings on the park, citing the possibility of an exist­ing lien.

At the April 19 council meeting, however, Borough Attorney David Frizell said there may have been "some corruption of the title," but that the borough is thoroughly covered by title insurance as well as by a signed certification by the previous owner, Metuchen I, LLC.

"We feel pretty confident it’s a frivolous suit," O’Brien said.

A second court hearing is scheduled for May 12.