The new concept plan for Bellhaven Natural Area includes an observation deck, similar to the one shown for illustration purposes above left; playground equipment; and a play area covered with a rubberized safety surface, shown in light green. (Click to enlarge)


Two years after residents gave a thorough hosing to a plan for a spray park in a West Side wetlands, Red Bank officials unveiled a new plan for the Bellhaven Natural Area Wednesday night.

This one got a warmer reception.

Engineer Christine Ballard of T&M Associates answering questions at Wednesday night’s hearing. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

Under a new plan unveiled by consulting engineer Christine Ballard to an audience of about a dozen residents, Bellhaven would get new playground equipment, but no “spray features,” the cooling devices that prompted numerous objections when they were included in an earlier plan.

The site, located on the Swimming River at the western end of Locust Avenue, would also get a host of climbing features for children ranging in age from toddlers to about 12 years old, Ballard said. They include a net tunnel and a net ladder. Underneath the play equipment would be a rubberized safety surface, she said.

The plan also includes a wooden observation deck that will comply with the federal Americans with Disability law that governs access, though how much of the river, just feet away, will be observable remained an open question. The view of the river there is largely blocked by 15-foot tall phragmites, and making the deck higher is not practical, said Ballard.

The developed area covers about a quarter-acre of the 1.25-acre Bellhaven property, Ballard said.

“This is a great improvement from the original plan,” said Kathleen Gasienica, who lives in a Locust Avenue condo project that adjoins the site and is president of the American Littoral Society.

“It seems like a really great use of a small space,” said Kate Triggiano, vice chair of the borough Environmental Commission, which successfully lobbied for the observation deck.

Still, a number of tweaks were suggested.

Gasienica noted that the nature area never had a maintenance plan, which led to it becoming overgrown and a haven for “vandalism, arson, sex and drugs” occurring within its borders. That needs to change with the revisions, she said.

The project should also include educational displays describing the flora and fauna at the site, which serves as a bald eagle foraging area and is home to about 15 deer, Gasienica said.

Also among the requested changes: a water fountain. Ballard said including one would not be a problem.

The occasion was a public hearing required as part of the town’s plan to seek a new, $250,000 grant from the Monmouth County Open Spaces program to cover half of the anticipated costs of the project.

This is the second time the borough is seeking such funding, having returned another $250,000 grant to the county after the public’s rejection of the earlier proposal put the project at odds with the terms under which the county had approved it, Ballard told redbankgreen.

“The project wasn’t moving forward as approved, so the money went back,” she said.

The current proposal is expected to be filed with the county next month, with a decision by the freeholder board in December, she said.