At last night’s Bloomfield council meeting, council members voted 4-3 against awarding a contract to construct a Butterfly Park planned for town-owned property on Lion Gate Drive.
The Butterfly Park became a source of controversy after the council voted to put the construction of the park out to bid in June of 2013 by a vote of 6-0. Since that time, Councilman Nick Joanow has asked the council to defer the award of the contract in order to allow the township to explore options to acquire the adjacent property, which is under construction by a developer who plans to build 104 townhomes.
If that property can be purchased by the township either directly or through use of eminent domain, Joanow favors building a soccer facility on the property. If that effort fails, he has said he would support building a soccer field on the site of the planned Butterfly Park.
Last night, Councilman and Mayor-Elect Michael Venezia stated that he was voting against proceeding with the Butterfly Park so that the new mayor and council could take up the subject in January. Councilmen Chalet, Joanow, and Bernard voted against moving forward with the park as well.
Council representatives Bernard Hamilton and Peggy Dunigan, as well as Mayor McCarthy, all voted to approve the contract. McCarthy said the options are limited, as the attorney for the developer had sent a letter to Township Administrator Ted Ehrenburg stating that the property is under development and the developer is not interested in selling it to the township.
During the public comment period, residents Maria Probst and Geoff Gove both spoke in support of building the Butterfly Park. Probst pointed out that a soccer field would “bring noise, crowds and traffic” to the area, and suggested that a soccer field, unlike a Butterfly Park, could cause flooding in the area, especially if it is made with artificial turf.
Gove, a local realtor, said the soccer field could hurt local property values, and spoke in favor of using the town-owned property for passive recreation, which could benefit the whole town, rather than as a soccer field that “only serves the needs of a tiny portion” of the town’s population.
Both suggested that the vacant Hartz Mountain site might be a better location for a soccer field.
The land currently slated for the Butterfly Park was purchased by the township in May of 2012 for $2.2 million, using funding from Green Acres and NY/NJ Baykeeper, an organization whose mission is “to protect, preserve, and restore the ecological integrity and productivity of the Hudson-Raritan Estuary.” When asked whether replacing the planned Butterfly Park with a soccer field would fulfill the requirements for the grants, Joanow said he was not concerned, as both uses preserve open space. He also reiterated the importance of the soccer program for the children of Bloomfield, pointing out that many children can use their soccer skills to obtain a college education through scholarships, an opportunity they might not otherwise have.
Councilman Hamilton’s Farewell Address
Earlier in the meeting, Councilman Bernard Hamilton, who has served on the council for the past 12 years and did not seek reelection for another term this year, gave a farewell speech, citing the accomplishments of the governing body during his tenure, and thanking the mayor and all of the council members with whom he had served, as well as the township’s professional staff.
He said during his time on the council, the group had “worked diligently to keep spending under control,” while working closely to meet the funding needs of the Board of Education. Hamilton also spoke of the redevelopment now taking place in the downtown, and the various ways they had worked to streamline processes “so that our business community spends less of its scarce resources cutting through red tape and more time cutting ribbons.”
Hamilton also said that there is “so much still to do, so much that must be done if we are to realize our full potential as a community,” saying that “we are… blessed with the political, economic and intellectual capacity to… take command of our destiny.”
Mayor McCarthy’s Legal Fees
At the end of the meeting, the council discussed whether legal fees incurred by Mayor McCarthy stemming from a letter he wrote that was published on Baristanet and elsewhere should be paid for by the town’s insurance. Township Attorney Brian Aloia said that the $2,100 invoice had been sent to the Municipal Joint Insurance Fund (JIF) as well as to the township.
Assistant Attorney Steve DeMartino broached the issue with the council. Mayor-Elect/Councilman Michael Venezia said, “Is this a joke?” He said the letter had nothing to do with governing and, turning to the Mayor, “You’re asking us to pay your legal bills?” Councilman Hamilton also said he did not support paying for the invoice. Venezia asked the Mayor how many other things he had “stolen from the township,” prompting an angry retort from McCarthy, who told him to watch what he said. Venezia shot back, “You’ll have a nice lawsuit from me soon.”
The original letter accused mayoral candidate Michael Venezia and Christian Strumolo (son of Democratic County Committee Chairman Pete Strumolo) of making “a deal” with the developer in exchange for a consulting position for Strumolo with the developer, a claim refuted by the developer’s representative. The Mayor, in order to avoid a legal suit, retracted his comments.
No formal vote was taken on the subject at last night’s meeting as it had not been put on the agenda as an action item; it will be on the conference meeting agenda next week.
In other business, Anne Marie Ruiz and Pasquale Parisi were both appointed as Police Officers and sworn in, cheered on by friends and family in the audience.
Holiday Tree Lighting
Prior to the meeting, a large crowd turned out for the annual ceremonial holiday tree lighting. Santa Claus was on hand to greet children and hear what they wanted for Christmas.
The final council meeting of the year will be a double meeting held on Monday, December 9, 2013, starting at 6 p.m. with a conference meeting, followed at 7:30 p.m. by a regular meeting held in the Council Chambers.