Ashby Park committee will seek funding for first phase of park’s development

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ALLENTOWN – Borough Council members have expressed their support for the Ashby Park committee as the panel begins the task of seeking funding that would be used to develop the planned Sgt. George Ashby Memorial Park in Allentown.

During a meeting on July 9, council members passed two resolutions that were introduced and voted on following a presentation by Allison Arnone, who chairs the Ashby Park committee.

Arnone outlined the work the committee expects to undertake as it pursues funding that would be used to create the 3-acre park behind the Allentown United Methodist Church on Church Street.

Arnone said the cost to develop Ashby Park could approach $1.2 million and council President Thomas Fritts said it could take as long as a decade to bring the project to fruition, “but hopefully, it won’t” take that long.

In May, Borough Council members approved a final concept design for Ashby Park. The proposal – which has been described as a dual lawn design – was developed by E&LP Associates.

Arnone said the Ashby Park committee is working against a September deadline to apply for open space funding from Monmouth County. She said the maximum amount of funding for which Allentown may apply is $250,000.

Council members agreed to allow E&LP Associates to complete the application for the county grant at a cost not to exceed $2,800.

In 2016, municipal officials purchased the Wilbert property which is bounded by residential properties on Hamilton, Broad and North Main streets.

In 2017, council members named the parcel the Sgt. George Ashby Memorial Park.

According to the website findagrave.com, George Ashby died at his home in Allentown on April 26, 1946, at age 102. At the time of his death, Ashby was the last remaining New Jersey Civil War veteran. He is buried in the African Methodist Episcopal cemetery on Hamilton Street adjacent to the park that now bears his name.

Municipal officials have said that in addition to Ashby, there are other African-American soldiers from Allentown who served in the Civil War who are buried in the AME cemetery.

“The borough has made a commitment to preserve the land and to honor Sgt. Ashby and other African-American soldiers from Allentown who fought in the Civil War and other wars,” Arnone said.

“Allentown was on the route of the underground railroad and there is much history here. Ashby Park is going to be rich with history,” she said.

Arnone said the Ashby Park committee will initially seek funding for Phase I of the park’s development. She said Phase I would include the removal of overgrown grass, the removal of trees, some earth work, and cleaning up the areas near the proposed entrances to Ashby Park.

By completing the work in Phase I, “We want to show progress that this is going to be a park. We will seek other grants for additional development of the site. We have a long list of grants that are available for this type of park and we are trying to get the AME cemetery on the national historic register” which could make other grants available, Arnone told members of the governing body and the public.

Allentown’s council members would have to commit funding for the park’s development in order for the committee to apply for the county grant, she said. The estimated cost for the removal of grass and trees from the site and the associated earth work is $70,000, Arnone said.

Councilman Rob Schmitt said given the amount of money being discussed in relation to the creation of Ashby Park, “professionals have to be involved at every step,” to which Arnone said professionals would be part of the process.

“I initially supported buying the Wilbert property,” Schmitt said. “We’ve come a long way” to reach a point where the development of Ashby Park is now being discussed.

“I have a high confidence level moving forward” with the project, Councilman John A. Elder III said.

The efforts of the Ashby Park committee were supported by Fritts, Schmitt, Elder, Councilman Robert Strovinsky and Councilman Michael Drennan. Councilwoman Angela Anthony was not present at the July 9 meeting.

The Ashby Park committee was given permission by the council to continue working with E&LP Associates and to apply for the Monmouth County open space grant.

The development of Ashby Park may be the subject of additional discussion at the council’s Aug. 20 meeting.