Future vision for parks, green spaces taking shape in Metuchen

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By GLORIA STRAVELLI
Correspondent

METUCHEN –- Public input is helping to guide the visioning process for the borough’s parks and green spaces, according to officials involved in the planning process for the Greenprint initiative.

“Feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Councilman Jason Delia, who is spearheading the project for the borough council. “There are good suggestions coming from the community.

“Everyone I talk to seems really excited, even the feedback we’re getting online is really good, a lot of people are just commenting, ‘Love this.’”

Greenprint: A Plan for Metuchen Recreation, Open Space and Trails has generated a high level of public comment, particularly online, agreed Planner Jim Constantine, of LRK, Princeton.

Greenprint includes conceptual plans for the borough’s parks/sports fields: Vidas, Hampton, Oakland, Myrtle Charles and Edgar; as well as regional spaces Trailhead Park, the Middlesex Greenway Extension and the Southern Gateway to the Middlesex Reserve.

Dozens of people came out each weekend and there’s been hundreds of people who’ve commented on the website,” he said, adding the past year has underscored the need to make outdoor spaces a priority.

“Coming out of this year with the pandemic, public space, walkability … basically building up your own backyard for the community has become recognized,” he said. “It’s so essential, absolutely, and I think people recognize that you need that woven into the fabric of the community.”

Constantine said LRK has been the borough planner for more than 20 years and helped guide a similar visioning process to create a master plan for revitalization of the downtown and the rail station area that included architectural design standards, streetscape enhancements, traffic calming and improved pedestrian access.

“Part of this is a real focus on revitalization, redevelopment and the creation of public space,” he said, “all of which has come along quite nicely for the past 25 years, and so this was really a logical next step in trying to add livability in green space for the community.”

The Greenprint initiative was introduced by Mayor Jonathan Busch at the May 10 borough council meeting. The project encompasses eight recreational spaces: five sports fields, Trailhead Park, the Dismal Swamp tract and the Middlesex Greenway extension.

Weekend events were held to provide an opportunity for in-person public comment, the first on May 15 with a focus on sports fields, and the second May 22 with a focus on trails and parks. In addition, comments can be made at http://metuchennj.org/metnj/Announcements/Greenprint

“A lot of people were at the sports fields for games and at the soccer fields,” Delia said. “We got comment on those fields. There’s been a lot of positive feedback in general, and then certain locations … at one of our fields we were proposing moving the playground equipment to a different location.

“Someone said, ‘That’s going to be too close to the road, I feel more comfortable if it’s away from the road,’ and that makes a lot of sense. We got a lot of that kind of feedback.

“Multi-use was one of the comments, like fields could accommodate field hockey as well as other sports. There has been a good volume of comment online,” he continued. “More so on the fields, I wish we had more feedback on the trails. … I think we wanted to do another walk back there. It’s something that you really need to see to get your head around what it could be and get your imagination going.

“One of the thoughts was maybe we can have multiple trails there. Maybe part of it can be paved and part could be unpaved because people actually like riding their bikes on unpaved tracks. That’s part of the fun.”

Delia explained not all of the components are borough-owned.

“There’s three pieces: Trailhead Park right by the Greenway, that’s the county’s; the Greenway Extension that goes from the current end of the extension all the way out to the end of town, that’s owned by Conrail … and the Dismal Swamp area, it’s a mix, partially privately owned and borough-owned partially,” he said.

According to Delia, the timeline for Greenprint calls for finalizing the concepts, identifying funding sources and working with Middlesex County and other entities such as Conrail, which own portions of the tracts.

We’re hoping to take the feedback and incorporate as much as we can and then I think the next step is we present a final concept plan to the mayor and council,” he said.

Constantine said a partnership with Middlesex County would facilitate tackling some of the issues relating to former industrial sites on tracts included in the Greenprint vision plan.

“Middlesex County is a partner as well as us. … We are trying to have this public/private partnership where we can get some of these brownfield factory sites finally improved and basically reclaim the land in a way that’s beneficial to the community,” Constantine said.

“We already have a preliminary vision for the Greenway extension and so part of this also aligns with some opportunities for seeding some of the redevelopment that’s been in the master plan for decades, which are these industrial sites that line the Greenway extension.

“Basically, the strategy is to advance redevelopment that also provides for public green space, trails and other recreation, open space components … also bringing into focus improvements to many of the existing recreation fields and parks in the community.

“So it’s really a combination of all of those things. … This is kind of the next level of really promoting livability by pumping up the green space – the trails, the parks, recreational facilities,” Constantine said.

Constantine underscored the potential of opening access to the Dismal Swamp property, which comprises hundreds of acres of wetlands area.

“Opening up a front door to the Dismal Swamp gets you into hundreds of acres. There’s a couple of acres in Trailhead Park, about 2 acres, and about 5 acres in the Middlesex Greenway extension,” he said. “But it all links together so it becomes a seamless kind of emerald life experience where you become part of the inner park, the trail, the greenway, the swamp.

“Let’s put it this way,” he said, “people will be able to go out into this extension of the green spaces and really be in parks for hours. That’s what we’re trying to do.

“So we’re trying to give it a front door, an access point, to really make it a great public access point, and extend the Middlesex Greenway about a quarter-mile to reach this point …  so that folks that live in Edison, Woodbridge will have access up through here, not just the residents of Metuchen. It would be a regional feature.”

For visuals of the concept plans or to add input, visit http://metuchennj.org/metnj/Announcements/Greenprint%3A%20A%20Plan%20for%20Metuchen%20Recreation%2C%20Open%20Space%20and%20Trails.html/_top