Op-Ed: North Bergen should not be rewarded Green Acres regulations that it has callously disregarded
Originally posted on NJ.com 02/04/16
The North Bergen Preschool is in violation of NJ Green Acres regulations which do not allow the school to be located on Braddock Park land because the land is reserved for recreational purposes.
This unfortunate situation began 15 years ago when Mayor, Director of Primary and Secondary Education and NJ State Senator Nicholas Sacco callously decided to move the school into Braddock Park without first checking with State Green Acres officials and without first conducting a traffic safety analysis at the site, which may also have been a violation of state regulations.
A Green Acres Diversion application process was launched, for the purpose of permanently allowing the preschool to remain in the park.
Green Acres views diversions as a "last resort" and North Bergen was required to search and investigate possible alternate sites as part of the application process.
A past referendum indicated major public opposition to having a school in Braddock Park, and a search committee was created comprised of Mr. Sacco and three township and school district officials - it excluded members from the community.
The search committee came to the predetermined conclusion that the Braddock Park location was the only safe and affordable solution.
The most promising site (64th Street) was rejected because the roadway would be too narrow; quite an irony, considering the current Preschool road is too narrow and a recent traffic safety study conducted at the park's Preschool site concluded the road should be widened and a sidewalk installed, yet nothing has been done about it in 15 years.
The 64th Street site was used for comparison purposes to show that moving the Preschool site to this location would cost $10 million more than if the Preschool remained in Braddock Park.
The $10 million figure is fiction; it probably would not cost any more to move the Preschool to this site than it would
cost to stay in the Park.
The 64th Street site is owned by the Board of Education and is still available, as are other affordable sites.
It has been three years since the search was conducted and the search should be repeated with a new search committee.
North Bergen is not impoverished as it claims; currently it has an $8.8 million budget surplus despite wasteful corruption scandals in the Housing, Law, Department of Public Works and Parks Departments in the last few years.
For more than 50 years the population of North Bergen has increased causing severe overcrowding in the schools while not a single new school has been constructed.
Instead of building schools, North Bergen gives controversial tax abatements to developers to build huge luxury apartments and shopping centers, abatements that deprive the Board of Education of tax revenue and raise the tax burden on the rest of North Bergen homeowners.
Mr. Sacco has waged a massive, expensive campaign touting the diversion as a great idea, claiming the Park is the safest and cheapest solution for the Preschool. His mailings and speeches repeated the false claims that the diversion would save taxpayers $10 million in relocation expenses and would create three times as much park land as would be lost in Braddock Park
At the public Scoping Hearing, officials never said why the Preschool addition that was built onto the Lincoln School years ago never got used as such, nor why an addition can't be built onto an existing school now.
Officials didn't ask the public for alternate Preschool site suggestions and the hearing was terminated prematurely as members of the audience had their hands raised and were calling out to suggest alternative sites.
The applicants contention that there isn't a site anywhere in North Bergen that is as safe as Braddock Park is untrue. Officials have irresponsibly ignored and misled the public about the dangerous conditions present at the Preschool location which may have caused illnesses and injuries to young children, teachers and parents.
The Board of Education has acquired open space in Braddock Park and converted it for its own recreational use. This loss of open space has accelerated with a recent "renovation" of the park which converted natural open fields to synthetic surfaced fields that are fenced, locked and available for only a few permit holders to use, seasonally.
Braddock Park's loss of open space to structures and fencing has fragmented the park and adversely affected people, flora, fauna and scenery.
Fencing negatively impacts pedestrian mobility, especially for the elderly and disabled.
The disturbing trend of losing open space would be further exacerbated by permanently allowing the unintended usage of park land for a North Bergen trailer Preschool which will eventually be replaced by some kind of school structure.
The public needs the little park land it has left in this crowded urban landscape.
The nearest sizeable municipal or county park is Lincoln Park in Jersey City, nine miles from Braddock Park.
The proposed small replacement parks do not meet the Green Acres criteria to provide exceptional recreation or conservation benefit and will not significantly improve the quantity and quality of parkland as required, nor will they serve the same population as Braddock Park.
A petition opposing the Diversion was created and its nearly 1,600 signers include James Braddock's descendants:
This diversion application is an admission that government has failed.
It has failed to plan and build new schools, to act in a responsible fiduciary manner, to protect the safety of its citizens, to obey state regulations, to protect its endangered parks and it has failed to heed the public's sentiment.
North Bergen should not be rewarded by a loophole in the same Green Acres regulations that it has callously disregarded for 15 years.
ROBERT WALDEN NORTH BERGEN