By Paul Greulich, Staff Writer
SPRINGFIELD — Same old complaints, new location. Local officials are receiving reports of unruly crowds of out-of-towners causing trouble at Laurel Park, the last recreation facility featuring a full-court basketball setup.
At their Aug. 6 meeting, the Township Committee voted unanimously to direct the public affairs subcommittee, township administrator and police to evaluate the situation at Laurel Park and provide a recommendation by Aug. 28.
Police Spokesman Detective Lt. Judd Levenson said police have received reports of noisy conduct, littering and one case of public urination at Laurel Park. However, the problem does not appear to be as severe as in other locations.
“We’ve haven’t had the same frequency of reports we had with Smithfield,” Levenson said.
No arrests or drug activity has been reported, he said.
The complaints coming in from residents living near Laurel Park echo similar reports that plagued Cohn Park, Henshaw Park and Smithfield Park earlier in the year.
In those cases, officials ordered the removal of basketball rings, reducing the basketball courts to half-courts and diminishing their appeal to the rowdy visitors. Township officials now suspect the same individuals have simply migrated to Laurel Park, the last recreation facility in the township equipped with a full-court basketball setup.
Residents clamored for a permanent solution to the problem.
“Forget the vulgarity, forget the garbage. I don’t need my kids to see people urinating in the park,” Resident Michael Aaron said.
Aaron thanked Mayor Ziad Shehady for coming out to inspect the situation for himself.
“This was a neighborhood park. A cute park where you could go with your kids. But it’s not like that anymore,” Aaron said.
Resident Allison Melar said most of the people causing the disturbance appear to be in their mid to late 20s, and are so loud she can hear them from her porch.
“The cursing that was going on was unbelievable,” Melar said.
Officials and residents were divided as to how to come up with a permanent solution to this problem. Some urged the removal of the ring from the Laurel Park court, stating it is the quickest way to head off any potential safety threats related to the problem.
However, others said this will also deprive local children of a recreation resource. Shehady said he is concerned about citizens who want to have the benefit of a full court.
“I’m getting complaints from parents who want their kids to be able to play full-court games,” Shehady said.
Some citizens urged the committee to look into the possibility of restricting use of certain parks to Springfield residents, while others suggested the parks be completely privatized.
Others theorized the problem may be a response to a lack of full-court facilities in other communities. The recreation department of Mountainside confirmed they do not have any public parks with full-court basketball setups.