By JOHN T. WARD
Red Bank residents offered those and other suggestions as the process of shaping a new waterfront park out of the former town dump got underway with a community brainstorming session last Thursday night.
Several dozen residents gathered at Pilgrim Baptist Church for the public forum, which offered offered attendees a chance to cover aerial maps and photos from parks across the United States with post-it notes bearing their suggestions.
Among the messages affixed to the displays: “boat ramp,” “walk-in access only,” “light noise buffer” and “deer live here.”
The site, at the western terminus of West Sunset Avenue and Drs. James Parker Boulevard with 800 feet of Swimming River frontage, has never been formally named “Sunset Park” — the name is a placeholder.
Much of the property served as the borough landfill and garbage-burning facility from around 1930 to 1984; some of it was later acquired by the borough, bringing it to a total 8.6 acres, said borough Administrator Stanley Sickels.
The methodical process of determining the extent of contamination of the site has slowed its conversion, officials said. “Back in the day, who knows what got buried there,” said borough Administrator Stanley Sickels.
That question has been answered, in detail, by several years and $750,000 worth of testing paid for by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, said Engineer Christine Ballard, of T&M Associates. [Coverage of a 2014 presentation on the cleanup can be found here, with additional coverage here.]
Now, T&M now has a a $47,000 contract issued by the borough earlier this year to develop a “remedial action plan.”
Before the site can be used by the public, the contaminants at and below the surface would have to be “capped,” or covered with several feet of clean soil, possibly atop a heavy barrier, she said.
But in order to come up with that plan, “we have to define a little bit what we want the site to look like,” she said. “At this point, we have a blank slate,” and how much active and passive recreation goes into the site is “really to be decided by all of you.”
“If there’s something you absolutely want, you have to tell us,” she said. “If there’s something you absolutely don’t want, you have to tell us.”
The cost of creating parkland would be 75-percent covered by the DEP, she said, leaving Red Bank to fund the rest.
Bill Kastning, executive director of the Monmouth Conservation Foundation, said the nonprofit is prepared to help, much as it did with the recent creation of the Springwood Avenue Park in Asbury Park, another urban site, and the conversion of the former Chris’s Marina in River Plaza into parkland.
“Our role was not to influence the design,” Kastning told the audience. “What we bring to the table is money.”
“This one could cost $4 million,” he continued. “That’s a lot of money. I’m not going to promise we’ll bring it all, but we’ll try to bring a big chunk,” he said, to applause.
During a public comment session, Jennifer Barons of Oakland Street was the first of several speakers who advocated for the creation of a skate park as an “amenity that attracts the creative class.”
Rhonda Anderson, CEO of the Community YMCA, suggested in a post-it note that the site include outdoor exercise equipment. Jimmy Dark of West Westside Avenue expressed concern that “nobody can guarantee that there will never be a health problem” arising from contamination. Gay Steinbrick of Locust Avenue noted that the site is part of a bald eagle foraging area.
“One of the things I’d like us to keep in mind is that this is a gem — it’s like a different world,” she said, “and to make sure that’s taken into consideration before some big hardscape is built.”
The project remains a long-range one, said Ballard.
“It’s not going to be done for summer,” she aid. “In fact, it’s not going to be done for next summer.” Once the remediation plan is finalized, the capping must occur. In addition, the town plans to seek other grants to pay for amenities at the site, a process that also involves long waits, she said.
After meeting with the DEP to see what the agency finds acceptable, T&M will come up with concept plans for presentation in another public forum, Ballard said.
Meantime, the public can continue to weigh in via an online survey available here.
“We want that feedback so we can make this place as good as possible for the community,” said T&M landscape architect Tom Lauro. “This is a really big, blank slate for us to create whatever we want, with restrictions. It could be something really, really great.”
The conservation foundation plans to hold a pizza-and-pasta fundraiser for the Sunset Park effort at 6 p.m. Sunday, May 7, at B2 Bistro + Bar on Shrewsbury Avenue. Tickets, which are tax-deductible, are priced at $60 per adult and $25 per child under 12 years old, and may be purchased here.