By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
A proposal to cut back the hours at Montclair’s temporary skate park has been tabled until the Township Council’s May 18 meeting to allow for more discussion between skaters and the park’s neighbors.
Until the matter is resolved, the skate park will actually be open longer. Instead of the 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. set by current township code, or the shorter hours that were originally scheduled for a vote May 4, the park will be open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., to be consistent with other township parks.
But according to skaters, who lobbied for the hours to be consistent, as well as neighbors, the town had already started locking up the skate park between 7 p.m. and 9 a.m. Neighbors said they’d been enjoying the relief from noise, but Katya Wowk, a spokesperson for the township, said if the park was being closed early, it was done in error.
An ordinance to scale back the hours, introduced on April 20, needed another vote on second reading in order to pass; that was originally expected to take place May 4. The ordinance would then have needed 20 days to take effect.
The council introduced the ordinance after neighbors whose backyards abut the two Rand Park tennis courts where the temporary skate park is located complained about noise. Some compared it to being in a construction zone.
Under the revisions, from October through May, the hours would be 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. From June through September, the hours would be 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.
Councilman Peter Yacobellis had introduced the ordinance on April 20. But he said that after speaking with skaters and Skate Essex club officials, he wanted to address concerns that have been raised over the hours not being the same as those for parks with basketball and tennis facilities.
“I think we can come up with a more thoughtful plan, and achieve a compromise for all,” Yacobellis said about tabling the ordinance.
According to current township code, parks are closed between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., while Carey’s Woods in Nishuane Park, the Mountainside Nature Center trail and the Alonzo F. Bonsal Wildlife Preserve close at sundown.
Councilwoman Robin Schlager, who has been working with residents lobbying for a skate park for 14 years, said she thought the new hours were a good idea at first — acknowledging that skateboarding generates a different level of noise than some other activities — but agreed more discussion is needed. She suggested that the township also discuss providing noise mitigation. Neighbors have asked that the township place insulation on the fencing surrounding the courts to muffle the noise.
Montclair High School senior and skater Olivia Karny told Montclair Local those who have come to depend on the park feel “kicked out of the one space” dedicated to their sport.
“While people can play lacrosse or basketball till 10, they lock us out,” Karny said. “We just want to engage in our sport.”
Skaters are looking for hours of 8 a.m. to sundown to use the park before and after school and work, Skate Essex board member Larry Linietsky told the council on May 4.
Resident Holly Shaw, whose son uses the park, said the closure of the park earlier than other facilities wasn’t fair.
Jill Clayburgh called the skate park a “blessing” because it gives skaters a safe venue off the streets and away from vehicles.
“Now they are locked out right after dinner,” she said.
But for some families that live near the skate park, the reduction in hours was expected to give some relief.
Nicole Rubin of North Fullerton Avenue called into the April 20 council meeting saying she couldn’t sleep with her windows open at night because of the noise.
Karen Janifer, whose backyard abuts the tennis courts, told the council on May 4 that skaters are sometimes there until midnight, with music playing. She asked that the council keep the reduction in hours, but said that the reduction was just temporary relief for residents who are close to the park.
Janifer and some other residents say that the tennis courts, and Rand Park itself, is not the right spot for a skate park.
“Changing the hours [from 84 hours a week to 76 a week] does not address the issue that the town gave permission for skateboarders to use tennis courts for a quote ‘temporary’ skate park, and with absolutely no noise mitigation. It’s the township’s responsibility to address the noise nuisance,” Rubin told Montclair Local.
Skate Essex, which supports skaters throughout the county and has been advocating for a permanent park, recently did some noise mitigation by insulating the park’s decks and ramps, but Janifer and Rubin say they haven’t noticed a difference.
Joann Somers, who is an avid tennis player and a frequent user of the courts, told Montclair Local she stopped going due to the noise.
“Tennis is a quiet sport. You need quiet to think on the courts,” Somers said.
Schlager said the discussions should include tennis court users as well.
Rubin told Montclair Local the neighbors are all for the group getting a “great skate park,” but not at the cost of the neighbors, and believes the town should look at other locations.
“I believe this is the only park with tennis courts only 20 feet from homes,” she added.
Skateboarders continue to push for a permanent park, and held a rally over the weekend. Where that park would be located remains to be seen, but officials have said that Rand Park seems like a top contender.
Township Manager Tim Stafford said whether the courts will now be locked up during hours when the skate park is closed will have to be discussed further.