As Essex County officials are poised to hold a public meeting on Jan. 21 concerning a proposed plan to build a 500-seat amphitheater — or conservation pavilion — at the Turtle Back Zoo, the West Orange Planning Board has recommended several changes to the plan as well as the process.
The News-Record reports that the West Orange Planning Board is requesting that the County increase the amount of trees to be planted to replace those lost to the new structure, and also “recommended the county add 1.5 acres back the reservation to make up for the lost land, build a rain garden for stormwater runoff and do a study for how stormwater will affect the area. The board also recommended the roof of the canopy be built with green materials and the county have a public meeting about the zoo’s master plan before work on the project commences.”
Note: The West Orange Planning Board has no legal authority over the process; its review of the plan was a courtesy hearing: “The Planning Board does not approve or deny county applications; the Board of Chosen Freeholders will be presented with a plan to build the amphitheater and will approve or deny it at a future meeting,” reported the News-Record.
Maplewood and South Orange elected officials have expressed their dissatisfaction with the amphitheater planning process as well as the zoo master plan process, with all officials calling for greater transparency and some calling for the abandonment of any further expansion of the zoo. A petition against further zoo expansion created by the group Our Green West Orange has elicited more than 11,000 signatures on change.org.
Meanwhile, Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. has “invited the public to attend a public meeting to discuss the proposed Conservation Pavilion at Essex County Turtle Back Zoo,” on Tuesday, January 21, 2020, at 7 p.m. (promptly) at the Essex County Police Academy, 250 Grove Avenue, Cedar Grove, NJ.
The county invitation reads: “Essex County is proposing to construct a 500-seat outdoor classroom, to be known as the Conservation Pavilion. Located between the Giraffe Exhibit and the Shores of Africa Exhibit, the Pavilion will benefit the education and conservation programming offered at Turtle Back Zoo. Currently, capacity for children to see the animal presentations is limited to about 120 children.”