The ideas about what to do with the neglected west side Bellhaven park have already been discussed at public meetings. Some want to see it turned into a miniature nature preserve, something quiet with a boardwalk, others want to see a park more geared towards the underserved children and families living in the neighborhood, maybe even something like a water park.
Until now, every discussion about what to do with the Red Bank park, which police and residents say has become a haven for criminal activity, has been prefaced by that one niggling addendum: if we had the funding.
On Monday, Mayor Pat Menna said the borough had been awarded a grant from the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders for $239,000 – r – for the remediation of the waterfront park on Locust Avenue. Though the freeholder’s memo says the money is for improvements like a splash pad and playground, Menna said the next step for Red Bank is sitting down to determine how best to use the money to benefit as many residents as possible.
Regardless of the park’s eventual form, Menna said the freeholders' decision to grant Open Space funds to Red Bank is a positive one, one that may signal a change in what is considered appropriate use for open space funding.
“You try not to make it too personal, but you want to add some levity to these kinds of issues. I’ve said the freeholders should put parks where people live instead of buying exclusive golf courses and frankly the freeholders have done it, they’ve been responsive to our requests and the needs of the residents,” he said.
In August, borough Engineer Christine Ballard presented a plan to to turn the parcel into a small-scale water park aimed at children. The plan was considered ideal because of its close proximity to the neighborhoods in the area and the distinct lack of recreation opportunities on the west side.
Menna credited Ballard for helping Red Bank earn the grant by presenting a plan and application, with the help of the Parks and Recreation Department, that demonstrated the need to turn the area into a useable piece of property that would highlight its waterfront location and provide active recreation.
“This is not going to be Central Park, it’s not going to be Branch Brook Park in Newark, but it’s a little patch and if it provides an opportunity for a neighborhood to have access, that’s important,” Menna said.
Red Bank took over the park less than a decade ago but has had trouble maintaining it since. Situated at the end of the road, the park is overgrown with phragmites making it a prime location for criminal activity, Council President Art Murphy said previously. The grant, ideally, will help make the park a safe place for families.
Menna said Red Bank would look to stretch each dollar as far as possible. He did not rule out the possibility of the borough adding some cash of its own to the mix, however.
“It sounds like a lot of money, but when it comes to designing things for municipal use, you have to consider many factors, including planning, and public safety,” he said. “We will look to maximize every dollar.”