WESTFIELD — After much vocal opposition to the Edison Fields Plan, Mayor Shelley Brindle and the Westfield Town Council announced that they intend to scale down the project to create multi-purposed turf fields behind Edison Intermediate School.
The announcement, made by Councilman Scott Katz of Ward 4, postpones the September 1 meeting with constituents while plans are redone. The next meeting between town officials, the Westfield Board of Education, Spiegel Architectural Group (the firm contracted by the municipality for the Edison project proposal) and residents will take place on Monday, September 20.
“We’ve had two successful public-input sessions and have put together a comprehensive list of questions and concerns,” said Councilman Katz during Tuesday’s council meeting. “We have heard from neighbors loud and clear. And as a result, we’re going to revisit the parks master plan to see if scaling the plan back to the original recommended size and scope can address many of the neighbors’ concerns, while fulfilling the commonly-acknowledged need for more usable field space in Westfield.”
The proposed fields plan, unveiled to the public back in June, sought to create multi-purpose fields over the existing two baseball diamonds and included LED lighting and turf fielding. The proposed expansion, set to be reduced in scope, was designed to create a multi-use field complex accommodating lacrosse, field hockey and soccer. The June proposal featured lit turf fields at approximately 400,000 square feet, with a cost estimated around $18.2 million.
After two public meetings held in July, and as recently as a board of health meeting held during the first week of August, opposition to the project has been vocal and organized and featured consistent arguments against the project that highlighted traffic and public-safety concerns; opposition to stadium-style lights in a residential neighborhood; environmental concerns regarding runoff from the complex; and safety questions connected to the scientific unknowns of turf fielding and its impact on athletes and other students.
Residents and neighbors living around Edison Intermediate School took time on Tuesday night to continue driving their points home, with much criticism directed at the science and safety surrounding turf fields and their compatibility with the “green” principles of Westfield.
The original proposed project, which has been referred to as “Mini-MetLife Stadium,” was met with indignation by neighbors of Edison Intermediate School, who felt an unfair burden would be placed on their neighborhood, without proper consideration for spreading field development through other parts of town.
“The proposed creation of a 400,000-square-foot, lighted facility simply doesn’t fit with any neighborhood,” said Stephen Kircher, of Knollwood Terrace. Mr. Kircher also took time during his address to the council and Mayor Brindle to highlight multiple potential dangers that he argued would come with the originally-proposed sports fields project — including car congestion that would endanger pedestrians.
“The main role of government, of any government agency, is to provide safety and security for its citizenry,” remarked Mr. Kircher.
Environmental concerns have been a constant issue since the beginning of the input sessions, with neighbors and other concerned residents questioning the science and safety behind turf fields.
“Communities should use natural grass for future construction and should consider removing existing synthetic turf fields when they wear out and need to be replaced,” remarked Jean Lehmberg of Grove Street. “Natural grass fields remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in the root mass and soil,” said Ms. Lehmberg.
“Why would you want to remove something so beneficial and replace it with 400,000 square feet of plastic grass and about a million pounds of chrome rubber infill?” she asked the council.
In other council business, the governing body introduced an ordinance that would remove parts of the Westfield Land Use Ordinance after a section of the ordinance was invalidated by Superior Court Judge Karen Cassidy back in May.
The ruling came after Stuart and Charlene Schnitzer filed a lawsuit against the Town of Westfield and the planning board, alleging their proposed subdivision was conforming to the town’s zoning requirements and did not require a variance.
Their complaint asserted that their expert witnesses, “objectively proved that the application was conforming to the zone bulk requirements, which was ignored, overlooked and/or not properly reviewed and analyzed by the board,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed by James Foerst of Spector and Foerst Associates, representing the Schnitzers.
Judge Cassidy ruled in favor of the Schnitzers, and in the process, invalidated Section 8.06G of the Land Use Ordinance, with her formal conclusion stating the section in question is “impermissibly and unconstitutionally vague and permits the Board to make individualized determinations rather than adhere to a specific standard,” according to her Statement of Reasons, a court document filed by Judge Cassidy.
If passed on second and final reading, the ordinance introduced on August 10 would “repeal” in its “entirety” Section 8.06(G).