Council will not discuss specifics on Maple Grange

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:42

    VERNON - Vernon mayor Ira Weiner and the town council opened the floor to the public at Monday's council meeting to discuss progress regarding the development of recreational fields. After several years of negotiations, the council has re-approached the state about using the acres at Maple Grange for the development. The discussions have involved the state buying the Native American historical site at Maple Grange as well as the entire park, then allowing the town to use the remainder of the tract for a park. There are several sticking points in the negotiations between the town and the state, including the number of fields the state would allow to be built. It's a "no-brainer to get a park for kids," said Weiner, who added the project "shouldn't be controversial." The town is continuing to talk to the state, and Weiner hopes to have something in place by the end of the month, he said. Whether that is acceptable to the town and its residents remains to be seen. "This is not a done deal," Councilman Neil Desmond, who has been intimately involved with the park from its inception, said after the meeting. The proposed development at the Van Dokkenburg property was abandoned when state environmental rulings shrank the usable area there to about the same size as the usable acreage at Maple Grange, according to Janet Morrison, Vernon deputy mayor. The council released this information to residents involved in recreation programs in town, then decided to release the information to the public at the town meeting, according to Desmond, council liaison to the recreation department. The council "wanted to make sure everyone has access to the same information," said Morrison. But no specific information, including how many fields the town is seeking to build and how many the state will allow, was discussed at the meeting, and the council refrained from releasing the boundaries and layout the town is requesting from the state. Initial plans for the project called for the eventual construction of more than a dozen fields at Maple Grange. The state Department of Environmental Protection, which must approve the plans, will not allow that many, and the council indicated that even if the current project is approved, the town will still need additional fields at another location in the future. Morrison argued for the release of information about what the town is asking for and what the state is offering, but the council preferred to wait until Department of Environmental Protection officials visit the site in the near future. Highland Lakes resident Ray Zimmerman voiced his concerns that the town's needs be re-evaluated. Once the deal is struck, the recreational community can have a seat at the table to brief the town manager and town engineer on what is needed, said Desmond. Morrison continued to argue for the release of information regarding the specific boundaries of the land in question. "You're fleshing out in enormous detail one course of action with the state," said Morrison, adding that the council owes it to the town to pursue multiple courses of action. All the council can do is negotiate the best deal, bring it back to the council and vote on it, said Weiner. If the council doesn't approve the deal, it will then go back and re-negotiate. "I'd love to see the park established with the historical site," said resident Herbert Wetzler. He added that he thought playing fields as well as some sort of path running through the site, explaining the history and culture of the Native Americans "would be a great thing for kids to come and visit." Jessica Paladini, a Vernon resident who spearheaded the preservation of the Native American site with local archaeologist Rick Patterson, said she had expected to discuss specifics of the plan at Monday's meeting. "I believe that the state of New Jersey has offered Vernon taxpayers something phenomenal," said Paladini in a prepared statement. "It's saving Vernon taxpayers a bundle, and I would really encourage you to move quickly." The town plans to continue discussing the issue at the next town meeting, scheduled for at 6:30 p.m. on May 10 in Vernon Municipal Hall.