It was the sort of photo op that politicians crave–especially on the day before an election.
But things don’t always go as planned.
Mayor Tim Dougherty was looking forward to lifting a ceremonial shovel on Monday for “Kleitman Woods Park,” a two-acre Hillcrest Avenue tract the town acquired five years ago.
However, a personal family matter kept him away, leaving Morristown Administrator Jillian Barrick and town Engineer Anthony DeVizio to kill time and field some tough questions from the small gathering.
“I was really upset I couldn’t make it,” Dougherty, who faces a contested primary on Tuesday from Councilwoman Michelle Duprée Harris, said later. “I’m excited to see the first new park constructed here in decades.”
Named for the property’s late owners, Milton and Bertha Kleitman, the passive recreation park will include picnic tables, a grassy play area, sidewalks, and fencing to keep kids from sledding into traffic.
There also will be handicapped-accessible paths of stone dust, and benches at the summit offering a majestic view of the downtown.
Morristown obtained the property in 2012 with $354,000 in grants from the state Green Acres program and Morris County. The town council approved a $234,180 contract last month with T. Fiotakis Construction LLC of Edison to construct the park. Tony Fiotakis said the project should be completed this summer.
It’s taken five years, Dougherty said, partly because the town changed its administrator and engineer mid-stream. “But good things are worth waiting for,” he said.
Residents expressed excitement that the project finally is poised to happen–while also raising some concerns.
Robert Parker, who spearheaded the drive to preserve the hilly, wooded parcel more than a decade ago, said he was “very grateful” for the town’s efforts. But he said officials had not shared final plans until the last minute.
“I’m just a little concerned that the neighborhood who spent years on this project didn’t really get to see the final plans. I saw a plan on Friday, and I’m not sure I agree with what’s on the plan,” he said.
Councilwoman Alison Deeb, who represents the Fourth Ward neighborhood and was an early advocate for the park, said she hadn’t seen the plans, either. She pressed for details about how many trees have been removed from the site.
Josh Feldman, who lives next to the tract and looks forward to his 5-year-old son playing in the new park, said he only learned of the ceremony on Monday morning.
Neighbor Dimitra Mihalakakos, a mother of two young boys, said she was glad the grounds will become more than just a “dog bathroom.”
“I was hoping to see stuff happen much earlier,” she said. “But slow is better than nothing.”
DeVizio, who assumed town engineering duties in late 2015 after Jeff Hartke retired, said he has met recently with Feldman and that he reached out to Parker on several occasions via email. Parker said he no longer uses that particular email address.
“I did everything I personally could to make sure you guys were kept in the loop,” DeVizio said, crediting residents for initiating the project and assuring them that he remained open to incorporating any changes they suggest. “We’re flexible,” he said.
Any removed trees will be replaced, and more trees may be added, DeVizio said, noting that the town arborist has walked the grounds with him.
Kristin Ace, who chairs the town Shade Tree Commission, praised DeVizio. The town has removed sickly trees, and ash trees, which should come down to avert a bug infestation, Ace said.
And Deeb, who serves in the Republican minority on the town council, cut the Democratic administration some slack on Kleitman Woods.
“It’s not easy to please everybody, but I think it’s really going to be an enhancement, obviously.
“And you can never have enough parks,” Deeb added — after hoisting a shovel for the photo op.