Rocker Debbie Harry Lends Her Voice to Fight Sports Fields Plan
By Chris Rotolo |MIDDLETOWN – As the lead singer of Blondie and a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Debbie Harry has toured the world, but the township resident says her peace of mind resides in the tranquility of Stevenson Park.The historic West Front Street tract and the site’s serene lakeside scenery are far removed from the famed Manhattan nightclubs like CBGB and Max’s Kansas City, where Harry’s revered musical craft was first forged in the late ’70s.During an Oct. 20 interview with The Two River Times, Harry drove her Jeep across a one-lane bridge and proceeded on foot down a gravel path between two adjacent fields. She passed a couple walking their Golden Doodle puppy and another hiker whose nose was nestled in the pages of a captivating paperback.Though she’s made a career of serenading deafening seas of humanity with raucous rock anthems, it’s these types of quiet activities in the tranquil setting of Stevenson Park that she’s grown to love.“I’ve always referred to this place as my little piece of heaven. It’s kind of a meditation for me to be out here,” said Harry, 73, of Lincroft, who has joined with Middletown neighbors to oppose a concept plan introduced by the township’s governing body that could remake the mostly undeveloped farmland tract into multisport fields.The proposal calls for the potential development of nine rectangular fields in three phases of construction at the township-owned parcel, with the creation of approximately 350 parking spaces over the course of the process.The fields could be used for soccer, field hockey, flag football, lacrosse and other team sports at various times of the year by the Middletown youth sports program which serves 8,000 township children.Township administrator Anthony P. Mercantante and Mayor Kevin Settembrino say more multipurpose playing fields are needed in the municipality and Stevenson Park is one of the last remaining plots where a substantial cluster of fields could be placed.Those opposed to the plan cite their desire to leave some natural spaces undeveloped. They also fear traffic congestion could result on West Front Street – a key pathway to Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank – with an increase of vehicles to a location that has just a single-lane bridge as its primary point of access.“I work in arenas, in venues, so my experience with traffic and proper access is really vital to this situation. This to me is a traffic nightmare in the making,” said Harry, whose father Richard resided at Shady Oaks, a nearby adult community of 370 homes.Barrett Thiele, a Shady Oaks resident who leads the opposition group, echoed Harry’s sentiment and said ambulances and emergency responders visit the adult community regularly to treat and transport condo owners.Marianne Kligman, another member of the residents group, said it already takes her 20 to 30 minutes to cross West Front Street and enter Red Bank due to regular congestion on the Senator Joseph M. Kyrillos Bridge, formerly known as Hubbard’s Bridge.Like Thiele, Harry said prior to purchasing her property in a nearby housing development, she was told Stevenson Park would never be built on.“Americans are so quick to knock things down because they’re old, but then we’ll go to Europe to see the historic sites. We don’t embrace our history here,” said Harry. “I feel like Americans are desperate for an identity and we continue to throw that identity away and build strip malls. It’s an ongoing process that we can control and stop, but it takes an effort.”Harry’s sister Martha Daverios owned the historic Lincroft Inn, which was sold in 2016 and torn down in May of this year by the new owner for a new restaurant.Harry said she was also drawn to the cause due to the site’s location next to Shadow Lake, which is fed by the Navesink River. Harry has been a longtime supporter of healthy waterways, lending her support to such groups as Riverkeeper in New York City and Rivers Alliance of Connecticut.She questions whether the introduction of substantially more motorized vehicles, field drainage systems and restroom facilities could be damaging local river systems.“The older I get, the more I appreciate the gifts we have and how important they are,” Harry said. “I just wish I had found out about this sooner.”During a recent interview with The Two River Times, Township Committee member Tony Perry said the governing body has identified a new location at Bayview Elementary School for two or possibly three multipurpose athletic fields, and a plan to develop that site has been temporarily agreed to by the Board of Education.Perry also said he’s working on an additional shared service agreement with Brookdale Community College for the use of its various playing fields.If the deals are sealed, these two agreements could potentially suffice in place of the Stevenson Park proposal.This article was first published in the Oct. 25 – Oct. 31, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.