After more than a decade of waiting, the Friends of Percheron Park thought their plans for a pocket park along Moorestown’s Main Street might finally begin. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Kathy Logue, president of the Friends of Percheron Park, said prior to the pandemic, the group had expected New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection to sign off on the site by April. But COVID has delayed DEP’s operations, so there is not yet final approval.
Nonetheless, the township isn’t losing sight of the project and presented the Friends with the township engineer’s plans for the park. At last Monday’s town council meeting, Logue discussed how the Friends would like to see the plan modified.
The township purchased the Main Street location – formerly the site of a gas station – in 2008, and Puritan Oil was responsible for its 2019 remediation. In 2013, the Friends received estimates for construction costs, elements of the park and the life-size bronze statue of a Percheron horse.
While the remediation efforts having undergone years of delays, the group continued to fundraise and currently has $101,000 in the bank to cover design elements not included in the cost of the park’s build-out, including a statue, benches, landscaping, a historical marker and impressions.
Logue said overall, the Friends are asking that the plan be simplified moving forward.
“As a major stakeholder in this project, we would like to have ongoing input on any design changes, to ensure it includes the design elements our donors expect,” Logue said.
The engineer’s rendering incorporates more landscaping than the Friends had in their original design. Logue said the township’s tree committee is willing to donate native, low-maintenance plants and shrubs.
The engineer also added a water fountain to the plan, which the Friends would like removed. Logue said as part of fundraising efforts, the Friends have sold limestone impressions to donors, and they need around 100 feet worth of seating wall to incorporate all of them. As it stands, the current design allocates around 67 feet worth of seating, but eliminating both the water fountain and proposed bike rack could help the Friends reach 100 feet.
The park will feature the stallion statue because, in 1839, Moorestown native Edward Harris II brought the first Percheron stallions to the United States from France. The Friends have fundraised the entire cost of the sculpture and ask that the township incorporate a concrete base and a fence around the sculpture to discourage people from climbing on it.
“We’re committed to a design that would incorporate all of our original elements and be a nice place for residents to stop and appreciate our original history,” Logue noted.
Stephen Pazienzia, president of the Moorestown Business Association, asked if the MBA might also have a seat at the table during the planning process. He said Moorestown currently lacks a “town center,” but Percheron Park could act as a central spot when the association hosts events throughout the year. Pazienzia also said the MBA has ideas to offer about how it could utilize the space.
“I’m just trying to find ways to utilize that corner, because it’s a strategically located spot for many groups,” he added.
Councilman Michael Locatell said at this point, no final decisions have been made, and he suggested the township engineer, the Friends and MBA host a joint discussion. He doesn’t see why Moorestown couldn’t have both the park the Friends envision as well as an event space for the MBA at the Main Street site.
“I think the next step is trying to get everybody in a room and talk about how we can fulfill as many needs as possible,” Locatell said.
Deputy Mayor Brian Donnelly said while the park is a public-private partnership, the Friends have donated a sizable amount of money with the presumption their ideas will be taken into account.
“I think [their ideas] should be given a lot of credence,” Donnelly said.
Mayor Nicole Gillespie said the township will arrange a meeting for all parties involved. She also thanked the Friends for their ongoing efforts through the years.
“It’s exciting to see it’s finally getting some momentum,” Gillespie said.
The Friends are still accepting donations toward the project. To learn more or to donate, visit http://percheronpark.org.