Municipal officials want to explore the possibility of handing over Westside Park and Eastside Park, two of the largest parks in Paterson, over to the Passaic County government.
Both parks have been badly neglected by the municipal government over the past decades. Upgrades, better maintenance, and improved security will follow if the parks are added to the Passaic County Park System, argued councilman Al Abdelaziz on Wednesday night.
“Eastside Park and Westside Park are in complete disrepair,” said Abdelaziz. “DPW is located at Eastside Park and the grass is still three to six feet high.”
Eastside Park on Broadway is 66 acres and Westside Park on Totowa Avenue is nearly 27 acres, according to municipal records.
“It’s an opportunity for the county to reinvest inside the city,” said councilman Gilman Choudhury, who represents the 2nd Ward, where Westside Park is located. He favors exploring a potential agreement to add the two parks into the county system.
Passaic County may have to invest as much as $20 million into both parks to bring them up to standard. Both parks would have to be deeded over to the Passaic County government. Public works, which is headquartered out of Eastside Park, will likely have to vacate if the park is handed over to the county.
Abdelaziz said having the county take over the parks will mean the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office providing security at both sites. Both Westside Park and Eastside Park are plagued by people smoking marijuana and to a lesser extent shooting up heroin.
Resources presently expended on the two massive parks can be shifted to smaller neglected parks in Paterson, said Abdelaziz. Councilwoman Ruby Cotton said those resources can help to improve Wrigley Park and Barbour Park in the 4th Ward.
Councilwoman Lilisa Mimms, who lives in the 3rd Ward, where Eastside Park is located, said she favors exploring the possibility of including both parks in the county system. She would still like to hear residents’ opinion on handing over both parks, she said.
Some council members raised concerns about the proposal.
“I would not want to give away our crown jewels,” said councilwoman Maritza Davila.
“Eastside Park needs a shining,” replied Abdelaziz, pointing out the “crown jewels” have been neglected for decades.
Davila worried local sports team might have difficulty playing in the fields at the parks if ownership changes.
An agreement between Passaic County and Paterson would hammer out usage and permitting fees. Paterson will be able to exercise first right of refusal and have blocks of time set aside for usage.
Councilman Michael Jackson worried Paterson residents may not be treated fairly at the parks. He claimed the sheriff’s office does not hire many Paterson residents.
“It’s kind of a bailout for the administration and their failure to be able to maintain certain things that they really are responsible for,” added Jackson. “Now we want to pass the buck to the county.”
“We’re just exploring at the moment,” said mayor Andre Sayegh on Thursday morning. “I am open to the idea of continuing my conversation with the county.”
Sayegh said whether to deed over the park lands could be negotiated. He said he hasn’t had any discussions yet on transferring over the two parks, but will once the council approves the resolution authorizing him to “explore” a potential agreement.
Renovation of both parks will likely boost property values in the Hillcrest section and the Eastside neighborhood, said Passaic County freeholder Theodore “TJ” Best, who lives in Paterson.
Best said property values around county parks are much higher.
“In Woodland Park, after we made our improvements, the property values immediately increased,” said Best.
Best said same was true after the county renovated Goffle Brook Park in Hawthorne and Weasel Brook Park in Clifton.
“I think it’s a no-brainer,” said Best of transferring the parks to the county. “I would like for it to be a slam dunk, but you know, it’s very difficult to remove politics. And unfortunately, politics has a way of ruining even the greatest of ideas and best intentions.”
Email: [email protected]