Voters say 'no' to controversial park referendum
Following a two-year divisive battle, residents vote to keep Oakwood Park under town ownership
After two years of controversy surrounding the fate of Oakwood Park, the town residents have spoken.
Voters rejected the referendum, which proposed selling Oakwood Park to Union County for $1 in exchange for $3.5 million to use for park renovations and other recreational improvements, Tuesday night by a nearly 2-to-1 margin.
"I didn't like the deal, I thought it was a bad deal for New Providence," said Mayor-elect J. Brooke Hern. "So I'm glad we're not entering into a bad deal, but now we have the hard job of implementing the recommendations into the Recreation Master Plan and finding ways to improve our parks for our kids, and I'm going to make that a top priority."
Although Councilman Michael M. Gennaro, who was elected to a second term Tuesday night, and Councilman-elect Robert L. Munoz were supporters of Oakwood Park sale, they agreed to honor the wishes of town residents.
"Everybody knows I supported it and the reasons why I supported it. I thought it was a good idea then, I think it's a good idea now," Gennaro said. "But obviously, the citizens disagree and we all pledged to honor the vote of the citizens and that's what we're going to do."
Residents need to move forward together and see what can be put together relative to dealing with the condition of the park, Gennaro said.
Munoz says he will also honor the wishes of town residents.
"The town has spoken, loud and clear," Munoz said. "They made their opinions know that that's our biggest asset, and they don't want to let go of it."
As an alternative to the proposed park deal with the county, Councilman Vincas M. Vyzas recently proposed a recreation initiative that would improve various recreation facilities in town, as well as Oakwood Park.
"[The plan] would ultimately start at the core area in the center of town and redo the tennis courts to light the courts," Vyzas said. "We would not take any fields out of service. We can do something with Oakwood Park and we can spread this out so we can do it over a period of time. It's a three to five year plan, but there's going to be some public input."
Vyzas said this proposal would ultimately achieve the goal of the Recreation Master Plan that's in place.
"We can put fields in service without taking them out. The problem was [the deal with Union County] could've taken Oakwood Park out of service for three years," Vyzas said.
Many residents are pleased with the referendum results.
"I know Oakwood Park was probably the most divisive issue that came across this town in a long time, and I personally never agreed with it," said Al Morgan, former Mayor of New Providence, at the Republican Committee Party Tuesday night. "I went down to the Senior Center and they said, 'You know what, Al? You just can't manufacture land. Once you lose it, you lose it.'"
Morgan said the results show that many residents share the same view.
"Now it's time that we all come together for the better of New Providence because the days of this divisiveness has to end. It has to end tonight," Morgan said.
Maria Ludwig, a resident who was opposed to the park sale and spearheaded efforts against it, said she's happy the referendum didn't pass because it was a bad deal for the town.
"We did it with a dedicated group of people, we did it with no budget and with a lot of hard workers" Ludwig said. "Now it's time to get the town together and figure out a plan that works for everybody and something that will make everybody happy."
Ludwig is looking forward to what the elected Mayor will propose for improvements to Oakwood Park.
"There's a lot of people who were against the referendum that want improvements to the park. So they're not going to go away and I'm in favor of improvements to the park, so we need to do something here and we need to bring the people back together," Ludwig said.
Nadine Geoffroy, a local resident and former campaign director for Hern, said she couldn't be happier with the results.
"That is it. It's been two years we've been working on that," Geoffroy said. "We went through a lawsuit, we went to council meeting after council meeting, we went through so much just to get it on referendum and we had a huge effort."
Geoffroy, along with many other local residents opposed to the park sale, canvassed town before the election.
"We had 15 teams and we canvassed 85 percent of the town with the facts," Geoffroy said. "The problem was people didn't have the facts so we gave the facts to the voters, and voters made an informed decision."
New Providence Patch will be following up with any plans to improve Oakwood Park.