Township renews bid to keep San Cap for local residents

Asks county to explore transferring ownership of ball fields

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  • PHOTO BY ANN GENADER West Milford ball teams play at Highlands Preserve (formerly San Cap) field on a recent Sunday afternoon.


Mayor Betina Bieri and the entire Township West Milford Council are standing together in their effort to keep the ball fields at Highlands Preserve (formerly San Cap) park available to township ball teams without them being charged a county users fee.

The council, on Wednesday, Sept. 20, unanimously adopted Resolution 2017-297. It asks the Passaic County Board of Chosen Freeholders to reconsider West Milford’s request for transfer of ownership of a small part of the park property (where ball fields are located) to the township.

That request, initially made on Aug. 2 in a letter sent by Bieri to Passaic County Administrator Anthony DeNova III, asked the county to consider bifurcating the Highlands Preserve property (Block 2902 – lot 3) and transferring ownership of the active recreation area (where ball fields are located) to the township while the county retains the passive recreation areas (including hiking trails) for continued use.

DeNova responded to the mayor in a letter dated Aug. 14 with reasons why the county denied her request. The reaction by the council was to pass a resolution asking the freeholders to reconsider Bieri’s request and to engage in the process of inclusion and discussion with the township representatives prior to making a final decision. In the resolution they addressed the reasons given by DeNova for turning down the township’s request.

The amount of the park land that West Milford seeks for active recreation is 10 acres. The amount they want to county to retain for passive recreation is about 208.5 acres.

The newly passed resolution points out that the West Milford mayor and council understand there are procedural steps and due diligence requirements associated with the transfer of any property — including the San Cap property — that was acquired with Green Acres money.

It said the township wants to explore with county officials the potential of engaging in these processes and negotiating the due diligence process with the ultimate goal of transfer of ownership of a portion of the property to the township.

The township understands that any and all Green Acres properties are open to the general public regardless of residency, said the document in continuing to respond to concerns expressed by DeNova. It said Bieri did mention in her letter that the recreation fields have been used exclusively by West Milford residents but that was not intended to imply that it is not available to users outside the township.

It is understood that if the township were to assume title to the active recreation fields access would continue to be provided in accordance with all the Green Acres rules and regulations. In fact West Milford operates other active recreation facilities in the township in accord with Green Acres rules and regulations, it continued.

“The mayor and council strive to provide access to active recreational facilities to all residents at no direct cost to users,” said the resolution. “As such the township desires to obtain this active recreation facility to complement existing facilities understanding that the cost of maintenance and improvements would be borne by West Milford government and access would be available to all users. Most of our local sports organizations are guided by volunteers who do not have resources to pay permit fees. These organizations provide safe, healthy and interactive opportunities to all sectors of the community including children, teens, adults and seniors from every economic group.”

The council pointed out in their resolution that the township understands the Passaic County administrator’s concerns about setting a precedent for the county of transfer of ownership were to occur. The document said that the proposal by Mayor Bieri would simply transfer ownership of a small portion of the property to the township while the passive recreation portion would remain in the county roster of recreation sites.

It said the mayor and council are confident that Passaic County officials would view this and all requests of any nature independently, based on merits of each request.

Council members said that while West Milford has a significant number of Open Space properties in the township there is a shortage of active recreation sites and a compelling need for such resources. They noted that in addition to the health benefits derived by individuals who engage in active recreation there are social considerations derived by individuals who engage in active recreation.

The council cited the benefits derived from active recreation in combating crime, addiction, social disintegration, segregation, bullying and any form of stigma.

The county bought the property back in the early 1970s after two businessmen who had combined the first three letters of their names to come up with San Cap as the name for the park had their plans for a country club there that fell through.

Back then businessmen who wanted recreational facilities created in town were having a losing battle with some township council members. With anger targeted at the late council members Robert Reilly and Gaston Roos over a remark allegedly made by one or both, someone put up a sign establishing an area for the two men to play the popular childhood game of the day — marbles.

Next the businessmen showed up on a weekend with various kinds of heavy equipment. They built the ball fields for locals to use for their playing field. The late Eddie Gola, a former township councilman who had been elected as a Passaic County freeholder, led action in which the county leased the ball field land to West Milford. Locals took on the responsibility of maintaining the fields.

This arrangement continued until this year when county representatives advised township officials that the county would fully incorporate the park into the Passaic County Park System as of Jan. 1, 2018. The county planned to take over maintenance responsibilities of the ball field — open for use to anyone in the state — with users required paying a user fee.

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