By Jaimie Julia Winters

Paving over paradise is the debate in Montclair over the renovations to Edgemont Park. Seniors want more parking outside Edgemont House, the facility they are using for township-sponsored programs, while town officials say the park needs to maintain its green space.

In March, the landscaper met with seniors to give them an overview of plans to reconfigure the asphalt parking lot outside of Edgemont House into a S-shaped drive, giving way to more grassy areas. The seniors learned then that the driveway would allow for parallel parking only along the ‘S’, which seniors said would be too difficult to maneuver. They were also concerned with safety issues getting from their cars to the building with no sidewalks. Construction had begun about two weeks prior to that meeting with the drive being laid out and bordered by Belgium blocks, said Ann Lippel, chair of Montclair’s Senior Citizen Advisory Committee (SCAC).

About 400 to 500 seniors have frequented Edgemont House monthly for township-sponsored programs for the past four years, since a Partners for Health grant was garnered to renovate the interior. The township does not have a senior community facility. In 2011 and 2012, the town investigated purchasing two parcels, one on Walnut and Greenwood streets, the other the vacant federal Social Security building on Bloomfield Avenue, but neither came to fruition. The resolution was to temporarily allow seniors to use the Edgemont House for senior programing, Lippel said.

The number of parking spaces offered before construction of ‘S’ drive in March is debatable, as the parking lot did not have delineated spaces. Some say it was 20, but town officials say it was about 12 with people parking on the lawn. 

Although construction has now been delayed and newly created plans call for some head-in parking in the front of the house along with the circular drive, Lippel said no one from her committee has seen those plans.

The SCAC forwarded to the council a four page set of age-friendly recommendations for the Edgemont House entryway and parking on Tuesday, April 10. The recommendations were based upon a site visit by members to Edgemont the previous week and include head-in parking, Lippel said.

“If the Township is offering programming to seniors in the Edgemont Park House, it has an obligation to assure their safety and security when accessing that location,” she said.

Recommendations included:

• All head-in parking including the current number of spaces (now parallel parking on the curve), plus an additional 12-16 spaces, with at least five designated for handicapped drivers;

• One additional space for the Senior Bus which could be used for the drop-off and pick-up of Edgemont House users by services such as Access Link, taxis, or other vehicles;

• The configuration and all curbing features, including changes in surface elevations that should facilitate and emphasize pedestrian safety, including the removal of snow from all paved parking and circulation areas (with snow storage on immediately adjacent grass areas).

Penny Carey, who attends programs at Edgemont House, told the mayor and council at its April 11 meeting that more parking, not less, was needed and asked for an update to the parking plans.

“It’s not going to happen,” said Mayor Robert Jackson. “It’s a park, it’s green space. It will destroy Edgemont Park.”

Current plans call for 12 to 13 spaces with parking for a bus, said the mayor.

Councilman Bob Russo said Edgemont House was never meant to be a senior center.

“It [senior programs at Edgemont] was temporary,” Russo said.

In March of last year the mayor and council passed a resolution requesting the town manager to “empower appropriate township professional staff to work with the Senior Citizens Advisory Committee” to pursue the investigation of creating a comprehensive senior center.