WEEK ENDING NOVEMBER 4
As we close out this week, I have two important items I’d like to emphasize today: Election information and an update on the Edison Fields Project.
As you know, the November 8 election is just a few days away. Please exercise our country’s greatest democratic privilege by casting your vote, which you can do by mail, early in person, or on Election Day in person.
The deadline to apply in person at the Union County Clerk Office for a mail-in ballot is Monday, November 7, at 3:00 PM. Mail-in ballots can be returned in person or by mail to the Union County Board of Elections office, or at the secure ballot drop box at the County Clerk Office at 300 North Avenue.
Early in-person voting is now underway through Sunday, November 6, at Union County College, with hours and location details available on the Union County Board of Elections website. Finally, polls will be open for in-person voting on Election Day from 6:00 AM to 8:00 PM. A list of Westfield Wards and Districts is available on the Town website.
Because of Election Day, our Town Council meeting will be held on Wednesday, November 9, instead of on Tuesday. As you’ll see in the information below, this is a very important meeting for the Edison Fields Project, and I look forward to a productive discussion on a topic of interest to so many in our community.
EDISON FIELDS: IT'S TIME TO TAKE ACTION
Over the past five years, I have taken a pragmatic approach to being your Mayor, focusing on solving problems, easing your tax burden, and moving our town forward. I am proud of my administration’s fiscal stewardship, delivering the lowest average tax rate in the Town’s history while maintaining our AAA bond rating and investing in our parks, police department, equipment, infrastructure, roads, and community spaces to provide the services our residents deserve.
We are also committed to sustainability through the efforts of our best-in-class Green Team, enabling the Town to achieve and sustain Silver certification with Sustainable Jersey for the first time in Town history. And we are hard at work positioning Westfield to benefit from New Jersey’s favorable redevelopment laws, which assist us in meeting affordable housing requirements and welcoming significant partners to invest in our community.
My team and I ran for office and were elected (some of us twice!) to take on these challenges and make the difficult decisions that would advance our community resiliently into the future, recognizing that change can be difficult and not always popular. In a densely populated town with highly engaged and educated residents, we will not always agree, nor should we, even among members of the Town Council. That is the very essence of the civic process. However, effective leaders do not let perfect be the enemy of good.
The Edison Fields Project is a premier example of how hard it can be to innovatively address problems that have plagued our community for decades.
Yet finally, after a comprehensive Strategic Parks Plan process and more than 16 months of discussion and input, the Town Council will vote on the Edison Fields Project at our next meeting on Wednesday, November 9 (not on Tuesday due to Election Day).
Before we take this important step, I’d like to convey the compelling reasons why I ask that the Town Council and Board Of Education advance this plan.
We need reliable field capacity to support our incredible youth sports and recreation programs in Town, and one of the best high school sports programs in the state. We don't have adequate fields to meet the demand, nor do we have facilities that live up to the caliber of our championship student athletes. On this point, we all agree. Where solution-oriented minds differ is on the approach – mainly in terms of artificial turf or natural grass, and where and how fields should first be deployed.
To ensure we make an informed decision, we have taken a multi-pronged approach that included professional input, research, and community feedback.
We obtained the input of three independent, professional experts: Brandstetter Carroll, who led the Strategic Parks Plan; Spiezle Architectural Group, who led the Edison project design; and CME Associates, who performed an independent assessment, at the request of the Town Council, verifying that lit turf fields are the most fiscally prudent option to achieve our field usage goal, grounded in the reality that it’s not practical to rely solely on grass fields where demand far exceeds capacity.
While some residents dispute this conclusion in favor of an all natural grass approach, there is no compelling evidence that a town of Westfield’s size with our necessary hours of play, and the multipurpose sports fields most needed, can produce and sustain our desired outcome with natural grass over the long term.
We did our own due diligence to verify the findings of these firms through follow-up conversations with their experts. In addition, I personally spoke to turf and grass fields experts, as well as municipal and county Recreation Directors whose grass fields maintenance programs were those Westfield could emulate. Interestingly, each of them concluded that maintaining proper multipurpose grass fields was not sustainable and mentioned that their sports teams often sought artificial turf options over time due to the deterioration of their grass fields.
Most importantly, we have heard and listened to our residents through numerous public and neighborhood meetings, as well as through their letters to the editor, social media comments, and emails, representing a range of diverse opinions. The feedback has been far more balanced than some would suggest.
We’ve heard neighbors’ valid concerns about traffic, parking, noise, lights, environmental safety, and flooding, all of which can be reasonably addressed with a properly designed and scheduled facility. We’ve also heard from our sports leagues, athletes, and families who no longer want to travel to and pay other towns for practices and “home” games when they pay property taxes to Westfield.
For all of these reasons, there is no other potential field location where Town sports leagues, school athletes, and students would benefit equally. What about the cost?Artificial turf is more expensive to install and replace than grass, but it delivers greater capacity, making it more cost efficient on a cost per playable hour basis.
- An initial investment in artificial turf and lights at Edison solves for the largest capacity increase in the shortest amount of time, and will begin our plans to improve fields Town-wide.
- Edison provides our student athletes, trainers, coaches, and marching band access to locker rooms, training facilities, and equipment storage at Kehler.
- Most importantly, Edison allows the Town to enter into a logical shared services arrangement with the school district that would benefit student athletes and the marching band, and create much-needed equity for girls sports programs.
A significant portion of the $9M projected cost will be funded by the PILOT proceeds from the Westfield Crossing project (expected to yield $20M over our 30-year developer agreement, beginning next year), thereby mitigating the cost burden on taxpayers. Any suggestion that the PILOT financing model has not been fully scrutinized and independently analyzed – not only by our Finance Policy Committee, but also by redevelopment finance experts and counsel – to minimize risk to taxpayers and ensure delivery of adequate revenues, is highly misinformed.How will environmental concerns be addressed?First and foremost, we are committed to seeking out the most environmentally sensitive and recyclable artificial turf materials without PFAS and without crumb rubber infill as these options continue to expand in the marketplace. Additionally, the project has the potential to improve stormwater runoff behind Edison and reduce the risk of flooding with properly designed drainage. Due to its proximity to Robinsons Branch creek, the entire design plan must be approved by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection before moving forward, and any plan will have to meet their most updated flood protection requirements. What’s next? Edison alone will not solve the field shortage, and it was never intended to be the only location for new fields – but it is the best first step.
We anticipate prioritizing Tamaques as a next step, pending an imminent report from the County assessing the recreation potential of seven acres in the park adjacent to Lamberts Mill Road that were previously a dumping ground.
If feasible, installing additional artificial turf fields in Tamaques, in combination with Edison, would provide us with sufficiently expanded capacity to next develop a long-term plan for maintaining well-constructed grass fields that could sustain appropriate hours of play. November 9 VoteIf approved on November 9, the vote would authorize the Town to enter into a shared services agreement with the Board of Education, pending BOE approval. This is not a vote on the financial bonding for the final design of the project; all of those details would come in subsequent steps.
The Town Council members are not experts on field management and maintenance, just as we are not experts on many of the matters that come before us. We have an obligation to be informed by experts, rely on the experience of our trusted Town professionals, and listen to our residents to make informed decisions. While the majority of the Council has been satisfied with the documentation, research, and financial analysis on this project, it’s no secret that not all of the Council members agree. But to say that our conclusions are biased or ill-informed, simply because they don’t produce the desired outcome some seek, does not make it so.
There will never be full consensus on any field project because it is always safer to say no than yes. This is exactly how we got here. But with the plan now in front of us, I’m confident that we can forge ahead with a safe and fiscally responsible solution that strikes a balance between the needs of our students, athletes, and the neighboring residents.
I hope this is the first of further collaborations and many future shared service agreements between the Town and Board of Education as we strive to deliver efficiencies and enhanced services for our taxpayers. I look forward to seeing you at Wednesday’s meeting. Thank you for your continued engagement as we work together to solve a complex challenge for our community by saying yes.