National Association for Olmsted Parks Opposes More Development
Opposing further expansion of the Turtle Back Zoo into South Mountain Reservation by Essex County, at an estimated cost to taxpayers of at least $10.7-million dollars, while destroying more forested land.
"[We are] not looking to draw additional people to the Turtle Back Zoo.”
-Kate Hartwyck, Essex County Parks Deputy Dir.
"We are extremely humbled by the record number of people who keep coming each year..[and] look forward to seeing the crowds grow in the future."
-Joe DiVincenzo, Essex County Executive
Help us protect South Mountain Reservation, the first county park system in the nation? Legal professionals, environmental consultants, printing,...it all takes moolah. We have been fortunate as stewards of this beautiful, Olmsted-designed reservation, but are saddened to see it sliced away bit-by-bit to build asphalt parking lots, parking decks, and expand an already expansive zoo. Our goal is protect and preserve what is widely considered the jewel of Essex County.
Your contribution is tax deductible, thanks to our Coalition partner Our Green West Orange. We need you to click the donate button below so we can educate the county on what TRUE conservation looks like. (And that it doesn't begin with backhoes and cranes.) - Thank You!
In a statement posted June 1, 2020, NAOP opposed development plans in the South Mountain Reservation. Essex County is the home of the first county-wide park system designed by the Olmsted firm. This jewel of Olmsted design – celebrating its 125th anniversary this year – provides restorative green and open space across diverse communities in a densely populated area. To read the full statement click HERE."
On May 4th, 2020, the Essex County Environmental Commission (yep, the county’s own Commission) passed a unanimous resolution recommending that the “Conservation Pavilion” project be "dropped altogether" given the new realities of COVID-19 and budgetary shortfalls.
Short of nixing the project, the Commission recommended a full and independent environmental study that should show a “net neutral environmental impact” before any ground is disturbed. (And if said study doesn't show net neutrality, the project should be abandoned.)
If Essex County proceeds with the proposed “Conservation Pavilion” project as planned, it will be ignoring the advice of its own Environmental Commission.
[Full resolution pdf below]
Residents throughout Essex County speak out against a wasteful project that destroys habitat in the South Mountain Reservation, at taxpayers' expense. January 21, 2020 at Cedar Grove public hearing.
On February 4, 2020, Freeholder Leonard Luciano explained to the Millburn Town Committee that Essex County will complete an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) after the amphitheater project is complete. According to NJ State Executive Order #215, that would be illegal.
[See 3-min video HERE.]
[View Executive Order HERE]
Residents through Essex County have been contacting their local papers and online news sites. This opinion piece "Don’t fall for Essex County’s greenwash of habitat destruction at Turtle Back Zoo," is written by Coalition SMR's very own Joyce Rudin.
Be sure to write your local editors, too!
February 11, 2020 the Millburn Environmental Commission passed a strong resolution to halt the county's amphitheater project based on detrimental environmental impacts.
Sept 10, 2019 the West Orange Township Council presents resolution calling on Essex Board of Chosen Freeholders to HALT expansion of the South Mountain Recreation Complex. County must provide a traffic study, environmental impact study, &
adhere to all DEP, soil conservation & other environmental protection & erosion guidelines.
February 27, 2020 the South Orange Environmental Commission unanimously passed a strong resolution against the county's amphitheater project.
Aug. 6, 2019 the Maplewood Township Committee passed a resolution calling on Essex Board of Chosen Freeholders to HALT expansion of the South Mountain Recreation Complex. (Committeewoman Nancy Adams drafted the town’s resolution with help from the Maplewood Green Team.)
[Resolution PDF below]
March 4, 2020, the Newark Environmental Commission adopted a resolution similar to that of the Millburn: Enough is enough.
[Resolution PDF below]
Despite the county only submitting a draft Master Plan, and not including all townships directly impacted by the proposed project in the planning process, and not conducting an environmental impact study, Essex County opens their million dollar amphitheater project up to bidding under the guise of "Conservation Pavillion." [PDF below]
On June 1, 2020 NAOP issued a letter opposing Essex County's proposed 500-seat "conservation Pavillion."
Read their letter HERE.
The county provided a Master Plan to West Orange Township Planning Board after months of both residents and township officials requesting the promised plan be made available. Below is PDF of this plan, for your downloading pleasure, which includes convenient words like, "Conservation" and "Education."
Lights! Sound! Cages! Tranqulizers! Kindergarteners are now ready to learn about conservation while seated in groups of 500, in an entertainment Pavillion that was home to 135 mature trees, and home to native species plants and animals. From here, they can use the planned "rustic toilets" and head to the gift shoppe to forget about climate change and buy stuff! [See the Zoo's PDF diagram below]
Filing Open Public Records requests (OPRA) is an important step in understanding the current state of South Mountain Reservation. OPRA records can reveal the impact that proposed projects can have on climate change. This information also helps us understand the workings of Essex County so we as residents can be prepared for future projects.
Below are responses to our OPRA requests, which demonstrate a clear lack of transparency in sharing information regarding public matters. To file your own Essex County OPRA request, click HERE.
South Mountain Conservancy Submits Letter to County
A sample of some of SMC's recommendations for the County:
...while we think that the County’s announcement of public hearings on the master plan is excellent, the process from the start should have included stakeholders, both West Orange and the Conservancy. That was not the case. Too much money and precious land is at stake for this to have been developed in a vacuum.