Freehold Township residents who live on Robertsville Road are seeking the closure of a parking lot at Lake Topanemus, citing misuse of the lot.
Lake Topanemus is owned by Freehold Borough. Lake Topanemus Park, which includes the lake, lies between Pond and Robertsville roads in Freehold Township.
The facility is overseen by the Lake Topanemus Commission and the main entrance to the park is on Pond Road.
The Freehold Township residents appeared before the Borough Council in Freehold Borough on July 19 to express their concerns about a small parking lot on Robertsville Road that serves Lake Topanemus Park.
The residents had also expressed their concerns about the parking lot during the July 13 meeting of the Township Committee in Freehold Township.
The Robertsville Road parking lot contains six parking spaces and is a back entrance to Lake Topanemus Park.
Freehold Borough and Freehold Township officials have discussed potential changes to the Robertsville Road parking lot, such as adding a gate to increase security. These alternations are opposed by the nearby residents, however, who stated they are only interested in the lot being closed.
Freehold Township Deputy Mayor Anthony Ammiano was present at the council meeting in Freehold Borough to support the Robertsville Road residents.
“The mayor (Thomas Cook) and the Township Committee members are on board with trying to not expand the parking area on Robertsville Road,” Ammiano said.
Robertsville Road residents George Kasternakis and Luis Esteves, who live near the parking lot, informed Freehold Borough’s elected officials about activities they have witnessed.
Kasternakis and Esteves said that on a daily basis, the parking lot becomes a location for loitering, tailgating, parties, loud music playing at various hours, littering, and the use of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana.
“Living across or in close proximity to a park should be a benefit and improve one’s quality of life,” Esteves said. “Living across from the Lake Topanemus parking area on Robertsville Road is a detriment to our quality of life because of the illegal and nefarious activities continuing to escalate.”
Kasternakis described how he recently confronted an individual who was unloading a dirt bike in the Robertsville Road parking lot. He said the individual told him that he believed he could ride his dirt bike at that location because there was no one around.
In most situations, however, Kasternakis told the council members he cannot confront individuals who are misusing the parking lot out of fear of retaliation.
“There are no sidewalks on Robertsville Road,” he said. “Other than us neighbors, the law-abiding citizens drive to the park. What’s the difference if you shut down (the Robertsville Road parking lot) and they drive to other side (on Pond Road)? They are driving there anyway.
“The undesirables will not drive to the other side (on Pond Road),” Kasternakis continued. “There are retired gentlemen fishing, there are women and children on the swing sets, the public is there. It’s in the public eye. You are not going to get undesirables sitting (on the Pond Road side) smoking, doing drugs and playing loud music.
“We are not denying the public access to the park. If you are a law-abiding citizen and want to use the park, drive a quarter-mile around to the (Pond Road) side,” the resident said.
To further demonstrate the activity taking place in the Robertsville Road parking lot, Esteves provided audio clips of music being played in the parking lot and Kasternakis supplied photographs to the council members.
“It’s six spots,” Esteves said. “After Pond Road, you more than gain those spots. You don’t need six spots.”
Roger Kane, the chairman of the Lake Topanemus Commission and a former mayor of Freehold Borough, recommended against closing the Robertsville Road parking lot.
Kane said he found the problems at the parking lot derived from tickets not being given to individuals who commit violations. He contested the residents’ claim of the Robertsville Road parking lot not being used by park-goers.
“All of the things (Kasternakis and Esteves) are pointing out are violations of the rules, regulations and laws,” he said. “If the township police were doing their job, and I don’t care if they have to ride down there every night and start giving out tickets, this problem would go away in three or four weeks. If you give out tickets, the word gets around that you cannot do that anymore.
“The six spaces that are there are used by legitimate people during the day. There are a lot of legitimate people who would lose a great parking space. I saw a guy and his daughter the other day unloading bicycles out there because they ride in the field around the big loop at that end,” Kane said.
In response to Kane’s comments, Ammiano defended the Freehold Township Police Department and said the small parking lot is adversely affecting Robertsville Road residents’ quality of life.
“There is a quality of life and I think everyone would like to enjoy their quality of life,” Ammiano said. “I don’t think six spaces are going to interrupt Lake Topanemus at all.”
Neal Herstik, a former member of the Lake Topanemus Commission, said the matter of the parking lot is part of a larger issue. While praising Kane’s efforts on behalf of Lake Topanemus, Herstik said he believes professionals need to sit on the commission.
“There has been a lack of attention given with professionals,” he said. “When I sat on the commission, we made decisions from the gut. The commission is not equipped to make the best decisions. We need to make the commission what it should be.”
Herstik supported eliminating the Robertsville Road parking lot and said it is not necessary.
Freehold Borough Mayor Kevin Kane said the comments that were made during the council meeting would be taken under advisement.
“We (in Freehold Borough) know a lot about what is going on in Lake Topanemus,” the mayor said. “I’m down there twice a day. The park has never looked better, in my opinion.
“We are going to take everyone’s comments under advisement tonight and talk to Freehold Township officials.
Borough Administrator (Stephen) Gallo and I met with (Cook) and the administrator in Freehold Township (Peter Valesi) to talk about this (Robertsville Road) entrance. We will discuss everyone’s comments going further,” Kane said.