Hopatcong told the Warriors more research is necessary before it could consider a deal with the youth football and cheerleading program for a piece of borough-owned land that would become the program's home.
Warriors President Gene Clarke gave about a 10-minute presentation to the mayor and council at Wednesday night's meeting, stressing a need for fields for the program, which has grown into Hopatcong's largest youth organization.
But the mayor and council, led by Councilman Mike Francis, said construction on the 59-acre Sparta-Stanhope Road lot could face challenges from the state's environmental laws and could threaten endangered species.
"We're with you," Francis said. "We just don't want to build up any false hope and then say, 'Ah, we can't do that.'"
With almost a dozen program parents sitting in the back row, Clarke said not only have the Warriors outgrown Hopatcong fields also used for other sports, but using those fields—scattered throughout the borough—has been tough on families with multiple children in football or cheerleading.
"For many years," Clarke said, "it's been the dream of the Warriors to have a field or a complex we can call our own. We know it's a big piece of property we're looking for. Unfortunately for us, the borough of Hopatcong owns a lot of property.
"We believe we have found a piece of property we think that could work for us."
Clarke said the program would want approximately half of the lot for two football fields, a pair of fields for cheerleading practice, a concession stand, an equipment building and parking. He said he had toured the land with a local construction company that said the land "was very workable" for the program.
But Francis said some—if not much—of the land could be part of Hopatcong's natural area preserve. Borough Engineer John Ruschke said he commended the program for actively seeking a field, but that previous reviews of the lot showed serious challenges.
"Where there's not rock there's a stream meandering in this location," Ruschke said. "And unfortunately [there were threats to endangered species] and it really rendered this property limited in what we can develop."
Borough Attorney John Ursin said Hopatcong wasn't trying to toss roadblocks at the Warriors. Rather, state Department of Environmental Protection laws would be difficult to overcome. Ursin said the idea might be for the Warriors to meet with Ursin and Ruschke to exchange information before the next council meeting.
"The worst thing you could do is get all the momentum from a community group and hit a roadblock," Ursin said.
Councilwoman Madeline McManus said Hopatcong would have to decide if it even wanted to sell the property to the Warriors if it was usable.
Francis said he wouldn't want the borough to give away the property, but rather to lease it so the Warriors would have to make little to no down payments and so that the borough could use the land.
"When they're not using it, I would expect that the borough could use it and that would not be unfair if that did materialize," Francis said. "I don't think that would be unreasonable."
Clark said the Hopatcong school district will charge the program $3,000—or $300 more than last year—for the use of its fields. The Warriors use the high school field for home games. Warriors officials have said several times they have issues with the district's facility usage fees.
Clarke said the program currently uses Narticong, Squire, Jefferson and Veterans fields—all borough-owned. He said it also uses two school-owned Wayne L. Threlkeld Hilltop Sports Complex fields and the high school field.
Francis said the Hilltop fields were Hopatcong's "last existing piece of property that could be used as a field." The district will use it, however, as part of a solar energy project projected to save the schools more than $3 million in energy costs over the next 15 years.
"I think it's [in its] very early stages," Francis said of the Warriors' plan. "It's good that they've shown a concept oaf what they're looking for. But the natural area preserve could be problematic. This requires environmental review."
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