Officials Defend Plan to Amend Open Space Rules

Residents question trust fund ordinance at Town Council meeting.

The controversy surrounding the so-called Fields of Dreams turf plan and a provided much of the heat at the Tuesday night Township Council agenda meeting. 

Under the proposed ordinance introduced Feb. 14, . The proposed law would expand the mayor's powers over open space fund dollars, which presently are allowed to be used for the purchase and preservation of natural spaces, acquisition of historic properties and improvement of certain municipal recreation assets.

If approved, the new law would allow the money to go toward a wide array of new uses, including Blue Acres acquisitions of homes "substantially damaged" as a result of natural disasters such as floods.

Some residents accuse town leaders of proposing the new law in order to make it easier to make the turf project a reality. A Feb. 14 stated that the ordinance change would strengthen the mayor's case for using an estimated $4.5 million in open space funds to pay for the installation of artificial turf fields and other sports-related improvements at Parsippany and Parsippany Hills high schools.  

The strategy is questioned by who say the administration is bending the rules in order to cater to what some consider special-interest groups—specifically, community youth sports organizations—by taking control of a Board of Education function.

“I ask the council to recognize a clandestine lobbying effort,” resident Rick Nogueira said. “I ask the council to act in a manner that is consistent with true community’s interest, consisting of all your constituents and not just these special interests.”

The high school fields are now in the control of the Parsippany-Troy Hills School District. The s before the municiality could proceed with any .

One of the leaders singled out for criticism at the meeting was . Some residents are concerned that the and legal representation to Mike Pietrowicz, one of the organizers of the Fields of Dreams effort.

Inglesino went on the defensive on Tuesday night, denying any direct involvement in the project.

“I do not represent Mr. Pietrowicz, and we had never met before until this particular issue came up,” Inglesino said. “I have never provided any content for the Field of Dreams website and I have not been paid by Field of Dreams. I have nothing to do with Field of Dreams.

“I wasn’t asked to come to a preconceived conclusion. I was asked [by the township] to look at the issue and analyze it in a legal, scholarly way,” he said.

According to Business Administrator Jasmine Lim, as of February, Inglesino had been paid $6,500 for providing counsel related to the turf proposal. Lim said the money came from the Parks and Forestry Department budget.

Residents had other concerns regarding the controversial plan. Some who live near the high schools brought up fears over increased traffic and parking issues, over who would play on the fields and about what effect the situation could have on property values. 

“Right now, my main concern is that housing values have fallen over last three to four years dramatically," resident Jeff Caffey said. "A lot of us have lived there for a long time and, all of a sudden, if our neighborhood radically changes, it will definitely affect the value.”

“Indeed, if you’ve got fields open from 7:30 or 8 on Saturday morning until 11 at night, it’s not like a football game [once a week],” resident Bob Crawford added. “It’s like 12 hours of traffic coming in and out.”

But some Parsippany residents spoke in defense of the project.

“Listening to what went on here tonight, throwing words around like ‘special interest’ in a town of 53,000 people, there are 53,000 special interests in this town,” resident Jerry Manning said. “As far as parking, if there isn’t a problem with the parking today, why would it change tomorrow? We’re not adding fields; we’re just cleaning them up and making them more usable.

“If you buy a house by a school, you’ve got to expect students and activity," he continued. "It’s like people who buy a house by a train track and don’t expect to hear train whistles, or someone who buys a house by a river and doesn’t expect water. If you don’t like it, move.”

Township officials, including council members and Barberio, noted that there are still steps that must be taken before the project can even begin. These include the formal approval of the  ordinance proposal and an agreement between the township, the Board of Education and the state Attorney General to allow a shared services agreement which would give the township 51 percent of control over the usage of the fields by means of a conservation easement.

“The fact of the matter is, we can do certain things, but we have to get the opinion from the attorney general and get the shared services agreement from the Board of Education,” Barberio said. “All of that is going to be addressed.”

For its part, the council seemed reluctant to move forward in planning the possible implementation of the turf plan without having the necessary agreements in place.

“The main issue here, I think, is the possessory interest part," explained Councilman John Cesaro. "It’s the same thing as saying we’re going to go out [and] spend all this money on expensive furniture for a house that’s not even in attorney review yet.

"I cannot jump into something that I have no control over right now. We can talk about the funding, the type of field and the type of track," Cesaro added. "We don’t own it yet.”

In the meantime, Barberio urged people on sides of the issue to keep lines of communications open and called for transparency.

“No matter what you do, someone’s going to be against or for the project one way or another," the mayor said. "We need to communicate, and we’re communicating. I said I’d bring this open to the public, and I have.”

The Township Council could vote on the proposed open space fund ordinance at its regular meeting next Tuesday at Town Hall at 7:30 p.m.

Carol M. March 17, 2012 at 06:43 PM
I find it unbelievable presumptuous and extremely unnerving that anyone would take it upon themselves to organize a public gathering at any of our schools without even the courtesy of a phone call to our board office in advance or with permission to invite a large group of people to stroll the grounds. Most of us know that the use of our school facilities requires permission in advance and I would expect that a former member of the board should be well aware of this procedure. There could have easily been scheduled activities at these schools this weekend and as a parent of children who have often been at our schools outside of the school day, it scares the life out of me that a knowledgeable member of our community thinks it's ok to invite a group of random adults to just show up at our schools. This group may have all the good intentions in the world but who is to say that the intentions of the next group of random adults that decide its ok to just gather on our school grounds will be the same. This activity was scheduled to take place on a Sunday when there are no school personnel around but if the township were watching over these facilities, someone is on duty 7 days a week. I do believe that this was the exact event I needed to help me make up my mind for good.
Michael March 17, 2012 at 07:33 PM
Carol, Very interesting comment. Especially considering the fact that if this takes place the formerly school grounds will be a public park. This means random adults can go there pretty much when they want to and nothing can be done because it will be a city park. These same random adults will be in our neighborhoods. At least with this group who was going to walk the fields, you know who they are. If the city takes over anyone can go there.
Bob Crawford March 17, 2012 at 08:03 PM
Carol, Carol, Carol Why must you always assume the worst? As it turns out two BOE members were invited to join the walk and they agreed to do so. They also agreed to advise the Board President of their plans to do so. And by the way the group of random adults that you are so fearful of are Parsippany residents on both sides of the FOD proposal who thought it would be useful to come together to jointly view the fields, tracks and fences to hopefully come to a common understanding about their condition. And horror of horrors the school district has graciously extended an invitation to the random group of adults to take our walking tour next weekend. By the way that random group of adults will probably have to walk by the random group of adults (and children) using the adjacent tennis courts and by the random group of adults (and children) using the track My apologies for having scared the life out of you. Please believe me that wasn't my intent. Happy St. Patricks Day
Seriously? March 17, 2012 at 09:03 PM
Carol M I will apologize on your behalf for your assumptions that were unfounded. Also, I found this neat little text online.Check it out and letme know what you think: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; OR THE RIGHT OF THE PEOPLE TO PEACABLY ASSEMBLE, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Seriously? March 17, 2012 at 09:33 PM
"I also know that it's light out until 9 am in the summer so lights should not be an issue for April - August". http://www.calendar-updates.com/sun.asp
Seriously? March 17, 2012 at 09:34 PM
You are a tool.
Par4theCourse March 18, 2012 at 12:56 AM
Well said, Bob. Slainte`
VietNam Vet March 18, 2012 at 05:48 AM
Pete, I've bee saying the same thing right along but everybody doesn't want to listen. They said the 5M surplus never happened, well its funny that Sietz just said that the money was there, just like I've been saying. The BOE has the money so let then regrade and reseed the fields with a good tough seed and then TAKE CARE of it this time, it will be so much cheaper and we don't have to finance it for the next 15 years and we won't have to do it again in 8-10 years at another cost of about $ 500,000 at the then costs. The mayor has been hell bent on shoving this thing down our throats for some reason, he knows if he brought it to a vote from the town taxpayers, it would be voted down. He is NOT going to take NO for an answer, and by going around things he will have access to unlimited anout of money to do anything he wants at his discretion. Very, very, very wrong Parsippany!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Monica Sclafani March 18, 2012 at 03:50 PM
Well now, Bob, getting back to your previous comment, it seems to me you had just a touch of the Blarney goin' for ya when you spoke about "what an extraordinary coincidence" it was that the district was doing maintenance on the fields when you wanted to do a walk around. I'm sure you wouldn't think to mislead the public into thinking that the administration did this on purpose to keep you off the fields (now, there's sarcasm for ya!).
Carol M. March 21, 2012 at 11:59 AM
Mr Crawford forgive my flare for the melodramatic but what actually causes me alarm is that you as a former member of our board feel at liberty to so easily disregard the policy that regulates the use of school property at your choosing. Your quote from Mrs Benos clearly says that she had heard what your plans were, not that you were invited and if you had followed procedure and made a call in advance you would have known that the grounds were closed for maintenance and could have planned accordingly. I'm not fearful of Parsippany residents or anyone else strolling school grounds but what does bother me is that the school doesn't have the power to enforce it's own rules so when someone that already has a full understanding of the rules and procedures, such as yourself, yet decides to organize a large public gathering and chooses to disregard the rules that are already in place, there is little that can be done to hold you accountable other then to point out the irony of the situation in a forum such as this. I gather that you are familiar with this technique since I've seen you utilize it often.
Seriously? March 25, 2012 at 12:05 AM
Keep an eye out for the un-redacted OPRAed e-mails between private citizen Mike Pietrowitz and Township Attorney John Inglesino. It''s sure to ruffle some feathers.
undecided March 25, 2012 at 03:01 PM
Personally I have no problem with the Mayor speaking to this Mr. Pietrowicz about this project or having his attorney share some information with a private citizen if that is what happened. To me that sounds like people doing their homework before officially presenting something. I happen to feel this is an interesting concept but I am not decided on this issue as of yet. I have some reservations about using the Open Space Trust Fund because of the town usage issue and would prefer the BOE maintain and upgrade their property. I agree that something needs to be done and turf fields would be great for our schools. I'm not so sure about the lights and real hard restrictions need to be in place before I even lean in that direction. I just think we should stick to the issues and discuss ways to come to a solution. Mud slinging accomplishes nothing.
Frank Drebin March 25, 2012 at 04:03 PM
Why a private talk with Mr Pietrowicz and the town attorney and the Mayor? Why couldn't what ever had to be said at a public meeting? Enough of these behind the back meetings with the Mayor and also the Town Council!
undecided March 25, 2012 at 07:58 PM
I've been to about 10 of these meetings. It seems there has been plenty of public awareness shared and both sides speaking. I've also been involved in politics in my previous town. This is what happens on federal, state and local levels all the time. You don't have to like it but you have the right to speak with the local politicians any time you want. If he or she agrees with what your idea is then it moves forward. It's just the way it is. So, I have no issue with it. However, as I stated, I'm not in favor of using the Open Space Fund for this. I am open for new ideas but it may be a slippery slope. I just need clarification on hard restrictions and controls put in place. So I'm still on the fence. Convince me with a real argument, not back room meetings. That's going to happen with any topic that you can come up with.
TJ Ritter March 25, 2012 at 08:31 PM
FYI, there were no "FOD" members/supporters at this walkthrough of the fields today. It was very informative. We saw things that needed repair, saw things that probably did not need repair and saw things that raised more questions about the scope of work. The press was there and we would have loved to have had the "FOD" members/supporters there so we could discuss the project.
donna March 25, 2012 at 10:45 PM
The reason why there were no "FOD" members/supporters at your tour of the fields today is because they are already aware of their condition. They have spent many many hours at these fields either watching their children play or trying to fix them up.
TJ Ritter March 25, 2012 at 11:21 PM
@donna Donna I can be e-mailed directly at tj_ritter@yahoo.com Please reach out to me as I would like to discuss the matter with you and perhaps get your insight on the matter. At PHS we noted the track to be in fair to poor condition. The football field needed to be seeded and aerated. We also noted that if two lanes were to be added it would change the footprint and additional work beyond the proposed scope would have to be done such as relocating fences and bleachers. We also noted that the field in most need of repair was the practice football field. That field was in awful shape and something should be done ASAP to prevent injuries. At PHHS we saw that the track was in excellent condition and perhaps only 25% into its usefeul life. The football field had some dry patches which looked like where field goals were practiced. The same issue applies here with expanding the track. The bleachers and fence would have to be relocated which is not in the current scope. Carol, I sincerely hope that you reach out to me. I truly appreciate the hard work you and others put into these fields. I am just looking to have some genuine questions answered. Please get in touch with me as I think we can both affect positive change together.
Richard March 26, 2012 at 12:47 AM
I find it pathetic how the opposers of this project make Mr. Pietrowicz out to be a "villain" or using "back-door politics". Are you all really that naive to think that all proposed ideas and projects that have ever been created have been made public before they were further developed. Are you all kidding me? He came to the mayor with an idea and a vision before it was presented to the public, just like anything else that goes on in this town or this country for that matter. You're all just trying to make one man look bad because you're running out of ammunition for your side. It is pathetic.
TJ Ritter March 26, 2012 at 01:05 AM
@Richard Please feel free to e-mail me at tj_ritter@yahoo.com if you wish to discuss this on a more one on one personal level. In my opinion I don't feel that anyone has made Mr.Pietrowicz out to be a villain. He had an idea and presented it to the mayor. He has helped out this community for many years and I applaud and appreciate his efforts. However, it was not really revealed to the majority of the public until well over a year from when it was introduced. I, as well as anyone else, would have done the same thing...I would not want people who would potentially oppose the project to be aware of such project in its infancy. That's politics, plain and simple. It's the way it is and that's fine. One of the main issues I, as well as many others have, is the appearance that Mr. Pietrowicz and the Field of Dreams Committee received direct guidance and assistance from our town Attorney Mr. Inglesino. It is Mr.Inglesino's job to serve the mayor and the council and he is not allowed to serve private citizens or private committees. Please refer to the following redacted documents that were obtained via an OPRA request. http://parsippanyunite.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/redactedshortened.6593545.pdf We are in the process of getting them un-redacted or obtaining a privilege log from Mr. Inglesino's office stating why they were redacted.
Peter B March 26, 2012 at 01:17 AM
Then I assume the FOD members would agree the fields tracks and fences can be brought to acceptable condition by simply repairing the track at PHS, the fences at both schools, and grooming grading and reseeding the fields. So why is the proposed solution artificial turf, new expanded tracks, and 70 foot high light towers? Spending $4.5m plus interest on something that could be fixed with less than 200,000 makes absolutely no sense. Let's use the 3 lighted artificial turf fields we have. Let the BOE deal with fixing the natural turf fields. Who can justify 5 lighted turf fields in one town? The FOD proposal would not be supported if the tax payers were asked. Maybe that's why people are so upset with the process that seems to exclude a community voice.
Chris March 26, 2012 at 03:02 AM
TJ, You and I have sat down and spoken about this like gentlemen. I appreciate that. I would love to walk these fields with you. Just say the word. You already have my contact info. You know why I did not attend today.
Chris March 26, 2012 at 03:09 AM
Peter B, I assume you know that the PHHS field has been regraded and reseeded 3 times in recent years. All 3 times were unsuccessful. The grass just can't take the slightest bit of traffic because of the ground underneath. Turf is the answer that resolves this issue while at the same time allowing additional HS athletic programs to use the field. Soccer, Field Hockey, Baseball, Band and Gym classes can now benefit from a uniform, high traffic surface. Also, no one practices on these fields now. Why? So they practice elsewhere on the grounds and wear grass down to dirt so the baseball fields have dirt outfields. Turf has to be installed.
VietNam Vet March 26, 2012 at 05:34 AM
PU, I so agree with you on this, why have they not discussed other options to fix this problem that the BOE let go on in the first place. I bet if you contacted a good talented landscape contractor to come in and look at this he would find other ways of fixing the fields. They say that it been done 3 times but the grass will not hold up, if they were using the right seeds instead of a cheap rye grass it will hold up for years to come. You need a good tuff turf here like a Tall Fescue which will grow high quick but its a very tuff grass and it takes a beating but it keeps coming back for more, its hard to kill this grass by walking on it.
VietNam Vet March 26, 2012 at 05:53 AM
Beth, did you ever stop to think that the fences and the fields for that matter, are in the shape they are because of the BOE's neglect to these things. The BOE has had the money for years to do these things but refuse to because they prefer to kepp paying Sietz his bloated salary. This town is not know for taking care of problems right away, they prefer to put a "Band Aid" over the problems all the time. If these fields were maintained on a regular basis, they wouldn't be in this shape today. As far as the kids are concerned, they are not noted for their smarts to much today, thats part of why the country is in the shape its in, because many of them and the women voted for the NIT WIT in Washington. Many of those people today are sorry for voting the way they did, but now look at the shape our country is in today.
donna March 26, 2012 at 03:11 PM
TJ, I'm sad to say that I am not really comfortable meeting with you or communicating with you. I have read a lot of your posts over the past months and I have attended some of the meetings. Many of your posts are nasty and disrespectful. There is just too much animosity and arguing. It sounds like others have met with you and I will let them continue that. I will continue to support this proejct for my kids and for all the kids in town.
VietNam Vet March 26, 2012 at 06:04 PM
It seems Julia that Parsip sure thinks he is a big leader in this whole thing, but what he doesn't stop to think is many people just went through a horrific event with the Hurrricane last year and these people still are no in their homes. Matbe little richie rich can go home to his nice warm bed at night, but many of these people don't have that luxury at the end of the day, and the residents as he puts are a little tired of funding things for the BOE anymore. Lately all the BOE does is take, take take, and no give and the town is doing the same thing and we have heard enough of what you want for your little kiddies in school, what about the rest of us who don't have kids in school but have to keep paying for your little babies, when do we get a little something that we need, like being able to go to a nice comfortable home and our own beds at night instead of hotels or some relatives house until many wait for the fate oof what will happen with their homes that they spent so much money on and trying to fix it up nice only to have it all wiped out by mismanagement of the town funds. It as everything else goes in this town, they neglect everything like to wall, the fields, the roads the list just goes on and on.
VietNam Vet March 26, 2012 at 07:04 PM
Beth, what you don't understand is we don't care about the fields because we have heard it all before how what you people want for your little kiddies, well that stuff is all BS the BOE and the town throws out to you to make you feel sorry, and all the while all they are saying is just fork up the money people. Well many of us are tired of forking ovwe the dough for something else the town or the BOE needs, what about the rest of the residents in this town that can't afford to keep forking the dough over for your children to have a preety clean field to play on. Many of the residents just went through a real bad year with the hurricane last year and still aren't able to get into their homes to sleep in their own warm beds at night like you do, but as with the rest of these others you are just thinking of yourself and what you or your little babies want. Why don't you have some compassion for others for a change in this town. Isn't that a little of being a good neighbor, thinking of your fellow citizens, many of who are hurting in many ways beside being inconvenienced with a few lights, or messy fields to play on! Many kids grew up play ball out in the streets, but it didn't hurt them any, it gave some of them some compassion for others, something this town seems to be lacking in.
TJ Ritter March 26, 2012 at 09:26 PM
@donna Just as an FYI, the first time I posted on the Patch was March 14 so you could not "have read a lot of your posts over the past months..." All I can do is hold out an olive branch.
TJ Ritter March 28, 2012 at 10:15 PM
Definition of Insanity – Doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. Field Agreement with Township FIELD AGREE W/TOWNSHIP 4. BE IT RESOLVED that the Board of Education approve an agreement with the Township of Parsippany-Troy Hills for field maintenance as follows: WHEREAS, the Township and the Board have previously agreed that athletic fields owned by the Board may be used by residents of the Township for athletic and other events upon a mutually agreeable basis; and WHEREAS, the Township and the Board have previously agreed that athletic fields owned by the Township may be used by the Board for school athletic and other events upon a mutually agreeable basis; and WHEREAS, the Board has entered into a contract with North Jersey LandCare Services, LLC of Fairfield, New Jersey to maintain the school athletic fields from July 1, 2010 through June 30, 2011, for a base contract price of $166,055.25 for field maintenance with additional services on a time and/or materials cost. NOW, THEREFORE, in consideration of the foregoing and of the mutual covenants contained herein and the obligations to be performed and the amounts to be paid hereunder, the parties agree as follows: For more details see page 13 of http://www.pthsd.k12.nj.us/pdf/MINS_7_15_10.pdf
TJ Ritter April 02, 2012 at 12:42 AM
Please check out the updated website of www.parsippanyunite.com A new Fact Check section has been added. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to contact Parsippany Unite. Change happens by listening and then starting a dialogue with the people who are doing something you don't believe is right. Jane Goodall


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