By JOHN T. WARD
At two public brainstorming sessions held at borough hall, residents and visitors weighed in on such matters as small-vessel access to the Navesink River, parking, river cruises and the future of the park’s clay tennis courts, among other topics.
The afternoon and evening sessions drew several dozen people and were guided by landscape architect Scott Scarfone, of the Baltimore office of Kimley-Horn, a planning firm hired by the council in December under a $41,000 contract to develop a concept plan for the 2.2-acre park.
“I think most of us can agree that what we now know as Riverside Gardens Park was a big home run,” one resulting from an extensive public input and planning process in the 1990s, parks and recreation director Charlie Hoffmann said at the outset of the evening session.
As it applies to Marine Park, “we don’t know what’s next,” he said. “That’s what you all are here to do.”
Among the suggestions: restore the clay courts that have been a fixture of the site for eight decades, but haven’t been playable since they were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Another commenter, however, suggested that the court site be used for visitor parking.
• “We have to remember that it’s a park first,” said Drummond Place resident Jennifer Garcia. “The more we get our kids to use it, the more families will be down there.”
• Ray Mass of Buena Place suggested eliminating the row of parking spaces nearest the river to create more green space. Also, keep the tennis courts, he said, but convert them to year-round use, including an ice rink in winter.
• Irwin Marine owner Channing Irwin suggested creating docking facilities for day-tripping boaters. “We get calls all the time from people who just want to come in for the night,” he said.
• Michael Paul Raspanti, of Brown Place, called for more vegetation “to really make that park look alive. You go down there and it’s dead.”
• Keith May of Spinnaker Lane suggested the planners look to Tuckerton as a model for what Red Bank might do to draw visitors to the waterfront.
• Aberdeen resident Andrew Furphy, who runs Garden State Kayakers, urged the creation of a kayak and canoe launch accessible to handicapped boaters and open 24 hours a day. “It’s a great add-on for very minimal money,” he said.
• “All I want to see is the river as clean and well-used as when I was a child,” said Middletown resident Jackie Hall.
• Joe Ruffini of Maple Avenue suggested making allowance for sightseeing boats.
• Judy Fraser of Elm Place said the park needs a better sidewalk on the steep slope from East Front Street, as well as picnic tables an “an upscale playground.”
Scsarfone said the public input process was about not just ideas, “but a sense of how much velocity those ideas have.”
Kimley-Horn, he said, has “no preconceived ideas of what this process is going to yield at all,” but the goal is to have a “master plan” for the facility by the end of the summer, “a vision for what the park can look like after a period of time.”
Scarfone said the suggestions offered during the two sessions would be consolidated and recast as a questionnaire that will be posted on the Marine Park Improvement Project web page in about three weeks.
Another round of public sessions is scheduled for Wednesday, May 2, when the firm will return with “some preliminary ideas to start running things up the flagpole” and gather feedback, he said.
Sometime in late June or early July, the firm expects to unveil some firmer ideas for the park’s future. Hoffmann said that meeting may be held in the park itself.