SUMMIT, NJ — Concerns about safety and privacy turned a public forum on the Summit Park Line pedestrian walkway into a tense shouting match at times as officials heard from residents regarding the second phase of the park’s construction.
At the Dec. 6 workshop meeting hosted by the city, residents on Eggers Court and Henry Street expressed their concerns about trail users peering into their homes, and other issues. While the first phase of the project in front of Overlook Medical Center is nearing completion, the second phase of the 1.2-mile linear park, which will connect the edge of the downtown to Briant Park, will take it through more residential areas.
“I think there’s a big privacy issue,” Brian Stellar said. “This thing is literally 25 feet from my daughter’s window and I don’t care about fencing and screening. There’s going to be people up there at night and I doubt the police are going to be patrolling this line at night.”
The second phase also involves creating a “rail to trail” path around the perimeter of the Celgene campus to connect the abandoned Rahway Valley Railroad line and Hidden Valley Park. Celgene is a global biopharmaceutical company.
The Park Line project is privately funded but its maintenance costs will fall to the city after its completion, since Summit owns the land, which it previously obtained from the state.
Summit officials heard residents’ suggestions and concerns after brief presentations from Park Line Foundation president and former Councilman Rob Rubino; Rich Bagger, Celgene executive vice president of corporate affairs and market access and Bob Thomas of Campbell Thomas & Co. Architects, of Philadelphia.
Eggers Court resident Pat Rotondi expressed concerns about noise and privacy due to the proximity of the proposed path to her home.
“Is it going to be right up to my fence? Because that’s where (Celgene’s) property and my property touch,” she said.
Bagger reassured that there would be vegetation on both sides of the path for privacy reasons.
“I’m just concerned because my bedroom is literally right there,” Rotondi responded.
Michael Smiley, another Eggers Court resident, said that he and his neighbors are the most impacted by the trail because it will be on both sides of their properties.
“Our property is more impacted than probably any other in the city because we will have this thing on both sides of our property. We will be surrounded by it,” he said
Smiley was also concerned that pedestrians on the railroad track would be able to see into his windows. He suggested moving the path to the other side of the rail line.
Thomas discussed how he and another architect had walked the proposed path to come up with a few different fencing and screening alternatives.
“That’s really not an acceptable option because there is the possibility of moving it over to the other side, and that would be a much more desirable solution,” Smiley added.
In addition his privacy concern, Stellar also characterized the Park Line presentation as “an avalanche of positive information” from the city, saying there isn’t a “single organized voice” against the Park Line.
“As far as this is balloons and streamers here, that is not the intent of this meeting. If that was the intent of this meeting, people would have just shown you presentations. You would not have the chance to go ahead and have a public forum,” council President David Naidu said. “The elected officials are here because we will eventually have to vote on these plans when they come up.”
Naidu added that privacy for Eggers Court and Henry Street residents is the biggest concern and the reason the city is looking for input.
Thomas agreed it would make more sense for the path to be on the other side of the tracks, but said there would need to be a design study done.
“I can certainly see the benefit of doing it on the north side,” he said.
Henry Street resident Larry Costigan said the city is making accommodations for Celgene, but not residents.
“It seems to me that accommodations are being made for this trail to go around Celgene to not be invasive for the company but yet, on Henry Street, it goes right through our backyard,” he said.
Rubino said Celgene has an easement from the old rail line on its property that predates the project, so does not have to allow anything to go through its property. Celgene’s easement grants the company the legal right to use the property although it does not own the title to the land.
“To put it another way, we really couldn’t continue it if Celgene hadn’t offered the perimeter of their property,” Rubino added. “This is an accommodation they have made for us.”
“Well who’s looking out for the little man? Because everyone’s looking out for Celgene,” Costigan responded.
Naidu interrupted the conversation by restating that the purpose of the meeting was to be informative.
“We have what we have and the question is, what do we do with it?” he added.
Joe Gallegos, who lives near phase one of the trail on Denman Place, told the audience that he was first apprehensive about the trail, but he and his family now enjoy its accessibility.
“I was worried about traffic and people walking the trail but, ever since this has been put in, the path has been very clean and my daughter feels safe walking from school to our house using the trail access,” he said. “There haven’t been people peering into my yard.”
“We’re worried about pedophiles though,” someone in the crowd said.
Naidu interrupted the conversation by stating that this was not the kind of meeting he’d intended to conduct.
“We’re not going to do this where people start screaming at each other. That may be tolerated some place else, but it will not be tolerated here,” he said.
Other concerns raised by residents included parking issues, the environmental impact of the park and the project’s construction schedule.