By JOHN T. WARD
Red Bank residents will get their first look Monday night at a concept plan for a new park on the town’s long-closed landfill site overlooking the Swimming River.
The plan, drawn up under a $47,000 site remediation contract by engineering firm T&M Associates of Middletown, includes a riverfront boardwalk, a kayak launch, a soccer field, a community garden, “sledding hills” and other amenities.
At 8.6 acres, the site is the largest undeveloped tract in town. Located at the western ends of West Sunset Avenue and Drs. James Parker Boulevard in the borough’s southwest corner, it served as the town dump for decades, and was also home to an incinerator used to burn waste from around 1930 to 1984. The long-dormant incinerator was demolished in 2009.
With 800 feet of Swimming River frontage, the site has never been formally named “Sunset Park” — the name is a placeholder. But for years, the Menna Administration officials have been focused on creating a park there in response to long-standing calls by West Side residents for new open spaces and play areas for children.
A town-hall-style meeting held in May, however, made clear that not everyone wants the park. Area residents expressed concerns that toxic waste at the dump might mean it remains unsafe. Town officials maintain that remediation measures, including the creation of a soil “cap” several feet deep, would make the site safe.
“This is not going to be, ‘we’re just going to put some turf on top of the dirty soil,'” borough Administration Stanley Sickels told the audience at that meeting. “We want to make a neighborhood park the neighbors can enjoy. We’re going to do it in such a way that you don’t have to worry about environmental contamination.”
Mayor Pasquale Menna said at that meeting that if there’s a public consensus not to create a park on the site, “then the public has an obligation to listen to that,” he said.
The concept plan shows 36 parking spaces in a new lot to be created onsite. It also indicates that the town’s recycling center will remain adjacent to the property.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has so far covered the costs of site testing and the incinerator removal, officials have said. According to T&M engineer Christine Ballard, the cost of creating parkland would be 75-percent covered by the DEP, leaving Red Bank to fund the rest.
Bill Kastning, executive director of the Monmouth Conservation Foundation, estimated that creating a park would cost $4 million, and said in April that 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.
Ballard told redbankgreen in October that the concept plan would incorporate suggestions given by residents at a public brainstorming meeting in April. But among the open questions in recent months was whether the DEP would allow the borough to remove and replace trees in order to accommodate the several feet of new soil that would be used to cap the site.
The concept unveiling is slated for 7:30 p.m. Monday in the council chambers, first floor, at borough hall, 90 Monmouth Street. The public will be able to question a number of experts expected to be in attendance, as well as offer suggestions, said Councilman Erik Yngstrom, the council’s liaison to the parks and recreation department.
Yngstrom said he won’t be there because he won’t be back in time from his travels for the Thanksgiving holiday.