"It's definitely David against Goliath," said Pelayo, who has organized a group called the Waterfront Park Initiative that is determined to make sure that a passive park is included in K. Hovnanian's proposed 182-unit complex that is currently being reviewed by the Guttenberg Planning Board. "But I don't feel like we're the underdog. We're the real deal and we're not going away. Our efforts are to get K. Hovnanian's proposal to include a park."
Pelayo, a resident of the nearby Bulls Ferry complex in Guttenberg [ironically also built by K. Hovnanian], knows that a portion of the area designated for the development in the project, tentatively called Hudson Pointe, has been originally zoned for park and recreation use.
And that's what her group is pushing for.
"Guttenberg is one of only three towns in New Jersey without a park," Pelayo said. "That land is designated for park and recreation. How can that not be a priority in giving approval to this project?"
The Planning Board heard its first round of testimony from representatives from K. Hovnanian Monday night. While no members of the general public were given a chance to speak (they will have their forum during the next scheduled meeting Feb. 18), Pelayo was encouraged, both by the turnout of concerned residents there were for the three-hour session and by the response she has received in support from other interested residents.
"We're not discouraged at all," Pelayo said. "We're going to let K-Hov get through their whole case and then we'll be able to bring up our concerns at the next meeting, when everything is fresh in the minds of the Planning Board."
When Pelayo first began her cause to have a public passive park built next to her home, there were only a handful of other concerned Bulls Ferry residents ready to take on the fight.
Now, the groundswell has exploded, with people from all parts of Guttenberg joining forces to insure that a park is included with the site plan proposed by the developer.
Lance Goulbourne has been a resident of the Galaxy condominium complex for the last six years. Goulbourne is a strong supporter of the cause.
"We're opposed to any building on what is supposed to be Guttenberg park land," Goulbourne said. "I think that feeling is fairly pervasive throughout the town, from the town's people to the residents of the Galaxy to the residents of Bulls Ferry. It's the last piece of land in the town where a park can be built. The more people find out about this project, the more they'll realize that a park is necessary."
No decision was made by the Planning Board about the proposed project. It will be voted upon at the next meeting next month.
Because the proposed development lies with the boundaries of both North Bergen and Guttenberg, with the majority of the units situated on North Bergen property, the project needed approval from the Planning Boards of both municipalities. North Bergen had already given temporary approval to the development, with the stipulation that it would review the proposal again if Guttenberg either made changes to the original plan or decided to turn it down.
Since the plan was originally introduced to the North Bergen Planning Board last August, the development has been toned down. In fact, only eight full units and four partial units now fall within the jurisdiction of Guttenberg. "As a company, we're very excited," said Francine Chesler, a representative for K. Hovnanian. "We feel that Hudson Pointe will be a true asset to North Bergen and Guttenberg."
Services of an attorney
Pelayo's group has retained the services of an attorney, Michael Kates of Hackensack, as well as a planner, Jason Kasler, also of Hackensack, to aid in the fight.
Pelayo and the Waterfront Park Initiative group met with representatives from K. Hovnanian twice to discuss the plans for Hudson Pointe.
"But each time we met, it seemed as if they were more concerned with the view we had from our homes, whether our view of the waterfront was being blocked," Pelayo said. "Although it's nice that they decided to make the buildings smaller, it's still not a park. We're purposefully moving forward with the park in mind."
Pelayo said that the block of land in question is about 80 feet wide and 200 feet long, from River Road to the waterfront. It's not enough to build anything substantial in terms of recreation area, like a playing field.
"But if we get 80 feet of open space, we'll take it," Pelayo said. "I think K-Hov has made a lot of money on River Road in the past. It's about time for them to give something back."
Pelayo said that her group is planning a fund-raising dinner - "We're calling it a pep rally," she said - to continue to collect funds to defray the legal costs.
"We're getting a lot of support from all over the town," Pelayo said. "We went door-to-door to drum up community support. A lot of other people would be there if they were informed."
"The only reason why there weren't 2,000 people at that meeting is that the people of the Galaxy found out late about the project," Goulbourne said. "I got a feeling that the K. Hovnanian people realize the support this park is getting. You never see anything like this around here."
Pelayo knows that the fight has just begun.
"I have faith in the Planning Board," Pelayo said. "I heard them ask the K-Hov people good questions. This is really big for Guttenberg. We have to start somewhere. I'm even more motivated now than before."
Pelayo knows that even if the plan for the park gets approval from both the Planning Board and the K. Hovnanian officials, it may be a moot point, because a small town like Guttenberg doesn't have the funding to build a park with its own money.
"I understand Guttenberg doesn't have the money to build a park, but I know that there are state and county funds that can help us," Pelayo said.