CRANFORD — Residents living adjacent to Union County College do not believe the college has backed down at all on building their athletic field, but county and college officials beg to differ.
According to Union County Communication Director Sebastian D’Elia, the county not only has been talking to college representatives but options for a field on county owned property have been presented to them.
“As a matter of fact, there was a meeting today between the college and county about this,” D’Elia said Tuesday.
According to one source, Oak Ridge Park in Clark was discussed at the meeting Tuesday as one of the possible options for UCC. This option was confirmed by D’Elia.
This information surfaced right before the Union County College Board of Trustees and Board of Governors was due to meet Tuesday evening, which was after press time for LocalSource.
However, according to college sources it was unlikely the board would be bringing out anything that was discussed with the county.
“We don’t do that,” said Steven Nacco, executive assistant to college President Margaret McMenamin, but confirmed that the college “had absolutely been talking with the county.”
Township Committee member Tom Hannen, a former Cranford mayor and a strong opponent of the proposed field, said the information he received told a different story.
“To the best of my knowledge there have been no meetings between the county and college,” he said Tuesday, but did clarify a rumor that surfaced late last week involving a contractor who tried to present a bid to the township for tree removal at the college.
Last week several Colby Lane residents said they heard that a tree landscaper had gone to the township municipal building seeking to present a bid for the “removal of 700 trees” at the college. After a township employee checked the bid and saw it was for the college, the person was told they had the wrong location and was sent on his way.
Hannen heard a similar story but the facts were different.
“One of the bidders did come to the municipal building but the bid was for tree trimming at the college,” he said, but pointed out that the specs were “written wide enough that it could have included removal of trees.”
Nacco previously spoke with LocalSource in April regarding the athletic field, dispelling many rumors that were circulating about the proposed athletic field. One of those rumors involved the potential for more severe flooding if the field was built.
“We are replacing a brick with a sponge,” he said, explaining that the college had to abide by New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection requirements, which insured that any possible runoff would be carried away.
Residents though, however, were convinced flooding would be increased by the proposed field and mounted an all out effort to stop the project.
Since April when the college announced they would be building the field, which would be adjacent to a residential area in the northeast section of the township, residents living on Colby Lane along with other streets bordering the college have opposed the venture.
They continue to believe the college has no intention of working with the county and maintained up until Tuesday that their sources at the county said the county and college have not spoken.
The college, though, agreed in April to postpone plans for the athletic field they planned to construct later this year, citing the many concerns expressed by residents and elected officials as the reason for this change of heart.
Felicia Van Ostenbridge, who lives on Colby Lane, directly in back of the proposed field site, does not buy any of it. She strongly claimed the project is moving forward.
She backed up this claim by saying she had been in contact with the Union County Parks and Recreation Director Ron Zuber, who told her that although they have called the college multiple times, there had not been any response.
“What concerns me is the words ‘postpone’ and ‘identifying a suitable alternative,”’ she said, adding that past behavior on the part of the college has made her wary because the board of trustees does not seem to be involved in this issue to know what is going on.
Colby Lane resident Mike Norman said Tuesday morning that he also heard there had been no communication.
“Ron Zuber from the county Parks and recreation department said the college had not reached out to him,” Norman said, but did not believe other county officials were working with the college.
“I think it’s just a smoke screen,” he said.
D’Elia said that Zuber, although director of Parks and Recreation, is not authorized to represent the county in meetings with the college. He said there were discussions that did not involve Zuber but he did attend the meeting held Tuesday with the college.
Princeton Road resident Julie Exarhakos reached out to New Jersey Democrat Assemblyman Joe Cryan in a letter dated May 13, imploring him to intercede on behalf of residents living adjacent to the college. She explained that the acreage the college targeted for the field was “the last undeveloped piece of land” on the campus.
“The campus is in a residential neighborhood in an area that has severe flooding issues and all they seem to be concerned about is that the 80 student athletes on their mainly recently created athletic teams not have to travel too far to practice,” said the resident in her letter.