SEA GIRT — The Sea Girt borough council voted unanimously on June 8 to install a second paddle tennis court in Crescent Park, a decision that followed months of intense debate in the community.
The addition of the court, recommended by the Sea Girt Recreation Commission, had drawn a vigorous campaign of opposition from a group of residents who argued that it would cause environmental damage to the park area, which has features of a rare maritime forest. The initially proposed location for the court, next to an existing court, would have displaced a number of trees — a factor that touched off the opposition campaign and resulted in the garnering of over 500 signatures on a community-wide petition.
Last Wednesday’s meeting, which drew dozens of residents, began with a presentation by opponents of the proposal for a location within the park. They disputed the recreation commission’s contention that the new location would minimize any environmental damage. They also accused commission and council members of being conflicted by their own frequent use of the existing paddle court.
Referring to the months of debate and the intensity of the community’s division over the proposal, Council President Diane Anthony said, “I wish that we will come together as a community. I pray to God that it happens. Because we deserve it. Our children deserve it. Our children’s children deserve it.”
Councilman Mark Clemmensen condemned what he described as a lack of civility in the long running dispute.
In an effort to compromise, the Recreation Commission’s current plan has eliminated the proposed viewing deck that would have connected the two courts. The original layout called for approximately 12 trees to be removed. In the revised plan, “no healthy or viable trees will be removed,” according to Recreation Commission Chairman Mike D’Altrui. The majority of the court will now be constructed over a gravel parking area, and the amount of green space used within the park has been reduced from 2,500 square feet to 950, which is a 62 percent reduction.
The June 8 meeting opened to public comment following the council’s vote, with residents permitted to speak on any matter. Most chose to speak on the council’s Crescent Park decision, many of them criticizing it.
“We knew you were all going to vote for it, but didn’t you want to discuss how we felt versus how you felt?” resident Sharon Kregg told the council. “We never got together and had a discussion, but you always said that you wanted the town to come together. We were coming together.”
Another resident, Megan Pacetti, who had participated in the opposition presentation at the beginning of the meeting, said, “I am sure you will get your second paddle court. And I am sure that, for most of the year, it will be empty, as the other one is, and I am sure that the trend will further go down of permit holders and popularity of the sport.
“But an amazing thing happened through this. The town, both Republicans and Democrats alike, have bonded together. You may get your paddle court but in the end, Pandora’s box has been opened and we get to see behind the curtain. And because of this, there will be many changes on the horizon.”
One resident, Eileen Lazlo, took to the podium to warn the council to expect litigation against the plan and thus, a continuation of the controversy.
Crescent Park advocate Kim Paterson also told The Coast Star Star that a group of residents were seeking legal counsel and would continue to closely observe the proceedings of the second paddle court. Ms. Paterson also added that, in the November elections, council members were going to see the effects of the newfound resident mobilization.
Some of those opposing the installation also argued that council members who are paddle tennis players and permit holders were guilty of a “conflict of interest” in supporting the addition of a second court. However, borough attorney Ray Bogan said the court would be a public resource available to all. As such, council members were among many who would be able to use the facility and would enjoy no special benefit from it, he said.
While most of the comments were critical of the council, a couple of residents used their allotted five minutes of public comment time to thank the council.
One such speaker, Herb Kunz said, “We all moved to this town because it’s a beautiful community, and there was a lot of ugliness that happened this past year.” He praised the council for what he termed as a factual approach in reaching its decision.
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