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City completes assessment of Cross Street Playground


April 22, 2013

By Carley Dangona

carley@thereminder.com

WESTFIELD — The city of Westfield completed an Environmental Assessment (EA) of Cross Street Playground in March to address the conversion of the land, which is protected by the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act.

The playground is part of the Ashley Street School Project, a 600-student elementary school the city plans to open in September of 2014. At the time of the Sept. 7, 2012 groundbreaking, the playground was already leveled in preparation for the construction of the school, despite opposition from residents.

On Sept. 18, 2012, Superior Court Judge Tina Page issued a preliminary injunction thwarting the city from construction or demolition of any land under Article 97, Cross Street Playground, without first designating a surrogate site. In October 2012, Page denied the city's request for reconsideration of the preliminary injunction.

City Planner Jay Vinskey submitted the EA. According to the assessment, the city plans to replace 1.35 acres with a vacant parcel a quarter-mile to the northeast of the site. The remaining acreage will remain under protected designation. The EA noted the playground is a 5.3-acre park.

In the EA Vinskey said, "This EA has been requested by the National Park Service to help evaluate the environmental consequences of the proposed action on the human environment and allow the affected public to understand the context for the proposed action. Alternatives considered in this EA include Alternative A, which consists of no action, and Alternative B, which consists of replacing a portion of the currently protected parcel with a new larger parcel."

Alternative A would not support the construction of the project. "This alternative was not selected as the proposed alternative because without additional land needed to construct the School facility in this downtown location, the School project would not be viable in meeting the city's needs."

The proposed replacement site for Alternative B is defined in the EA as the "Wielgus Property, a 46.3-acre parcel located about a quarter- mile northeast of the Cross Street Playground, on the opposite side of Main Street. It also borders residential neighborhoods and abuts the Westfield River."

In his letter to the National Park Service, Peter Miller, director of Community Development, outlined a timeline for the development of "Wielgus Fields." He wrote, "We would expect, upon our acquisition, to begin opening the property to hiking, passive recreation and community gardening activities within the first year 2013-2014."

He continued, "We have identified both of those activities as 'limited' in our current public park portfolio. Additionally, the city anticipates devoting the next 12 to 18 months to planning, engineering and securing construction resources. A one-year construction period would follow, making fall 2015 or spring 2016 our target for full build-out."

According to the EA, Cross Street Playground currently consists of two baseball diamonds, a batting cage, a playground, a grassy area, a concession section and a parking area. Converting the site would result in the loss of a baseball diamond, but will add a basketball court, paved play area, benches, sidewalk and continued use of the grassy area.

The EA stated, "The use of a portion of the Cross Street site is necessary for the school project. Without the conversion, the project as proposed cannot proceed, so no other alternatives relative to the Cross Street Playground were considered for this Environmental Assessment."

Studies of the project found "negligible impacts" the playground related to air quality, noise, water quality, zoning and aesthetics, in regards to the construction phase of the project.

The EA also detailed that while traffic associated with the playground would not increase, the current amount of traffic in the area would, due to the needs of the school. "A school bus pull-off is proposed off Ashley; parent vehicle drop-off/stacking is designed along Cross Street. Peak traffic hours are considered to be 8:15 to 9:15 a.m. and 3 to 4 p.m., weekdays (except school vacations/summer)."

The document further stated, "Impacts A traffic impact study has been prepared (Fuss & O'Neill, April 24, 2012) for the proposed school project. The study found that 'the roadways directly accessed by the school are relatively low volume residential streets. These streets will see an increase in the number of vehicles, but the increased traffic demand will not result in significant reductions in capacity or increased delays. Intersections with Main Street and East Silver Street, which carry heavier volumes, will not see a significant impact.

"There is expected to be significant traffic activity immediately adjacent to the school during student arrival and dismissal times, especially associated with the auto drop-off/pick- up operation.' (emphasis added). Traffic generated by the existing Cross Street little league field (proposed for elimination as part of the conversion) would be transferred to the replacement site."

Mayor Daniel Knapik told Reminder Publications, "The next steps in the process are to take comments from the public regarding the EA, respond to them and to report back to the National Park Service."

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