The struggle over the fate of a planned butterfly park on Lion Gate Drive continued Monday evening, as Mayor McCarthy deferred a vote to move the project forward due to the absence of Mayor-Elect Venezia.
During a contentious discussion at last week’s conference meeting, McCarthy had vowed to put the awarding of the contract for the butterfly park on Monday’s agenda, saying, “There is no reason for it to be deferred.”
The 5.7 acre site was purchased by the Township in 2012, and the council had voted to put the proposed construction of the park out to bid in June of 2013.
On August 13, five sealed bids were received for the construction of the park, and Township Engineer Paul Lasek recommended that the Township award the contract to Let it Grow, Inc., a landscape and site construction company located in River Edge, New Jersey.
However, the award of the contract has been delayed several times at the request of Councilman Nick Joanow, who is opposed to the development of the adjacent property at 8 Lion Gate Drive, the site of the former Scientific Glass factory. That parcel of land is slated for a 104-townhome development, which has already received all necessary permits and approvals. Glen Ridge Country Club is reported to be interested in purchasing the land as an extension to their adjacent golf course. At a previous conference meeting, Councilman Carlos Bernard requested a meeting with the developer, Fleet Bloomfield, LLC. That meeting has not yet taken place.
At last week’s conference meeting, Michael Venezia stated that although the initial price quoted by then-developer Somerset Development was too high, there was room for negotiation and the Country Club is interested in partnering with the Township to acquire the land. Venezia said he wanted to put off the $600k commitment to build a butterfly park until after the meeting with the developer requested by Councilman Bernard takes place. Joanow also said he would favor building a soccer field over the butterfly park if the deal with GRCC fails to pan out.
When asked by Councilwoman Peggy Dunigan why he had reversed his support for the butterfly park, Joanow said priorities had changed, and he now felt it was more important to provide the children of Bloomfield with a place to play soccer. “Having 1200 children who participate in a sport have to lease a spot out of Bloomfield to play a sport…is unacceptable.”
At Monday’s meeting when the butterfly park came up on the agenda, McCarthy said that since Mayor-Elect Venezia was absent, he would defer the vote as a courtesy.
Also on the agenda at Monday’s meeting was a proposal to limit the number of council meetings to one conference meeting and one regular council meeting per month, rather than two of each type of meeting as the current schedule provides. Both former mayoral candidate Russell Mollica and Maria Probst spoke against the idea during the public comment period. At last week’s conference meeting, Mayor McCarthy had said that the council had tried a twice-monthly schedule previously, and it had been a failure.
In answer to questions by Mollica and Probst, McCarthy elaborated on the reasons for the failure. He said meetings had run to eleven or twelve o’clock at night, and the council had to order out for dinner just to get through their agendas. Council representatives Dunigan and Hamilton concurred. Hamilton said that the twice-monthly meetings resulted in a broadened range of issues being put on the agenda, which caused longer discussions.
The two ordinances to change the schedule failed on tied 3-3 votes, with Mayor McCarthy and council representatives Dunigan and Hamilton voting no.
The mayor and council passed four ordinances on second reading, including a bond ordinance providing for capital improvements, changes to sewer and water fees, and the rescission of the “crash tax” that charged out-of-town residents a response fee of $100 if they were involved in an accident in Bloomfield.
They also approved consent resolutions awarding a contract to upgrade catch basins and manhole covers, and supporting a grant application to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection for funding to de-snag and de-silt portions of the Third River, which should mitigate flooding problems.
At the beginning of the meeting, the council presented a proclamation to the Bloomfield Technical High School of the Essex County Vocational and Technical School District, praising the school’s success and long-standing relationship with Bloomfield.
During public comment, Maria Probst questioned why an annual list of recommendations made by the Zoning Board had not been acted upon by the mayor and council. She said the items on the list continue to roll over year after year without any changes taking place.
Russell Mollica also spoke about the Scientific Glass site, pointing out that the planned townhouse development would bring in $1 million in ratables to the town. He supported the butterfly park, pointing out that the township needs green space, and questioned the practicality of a soccer field in that location, citing traffic concerns.
The next meeting will be a conference meeting to be held at 7 p.m. on Monday, November 25, 2013, in the 2nd floor conference room in the Law Enforcement Building.