Newark Mayor Ras Baraka asked the South Orange Planning Board this week to delay approving Seton Hall’s plans to expand its sports complex — as Newark neighbors raise concerns about flooding they blame on the school’s past development.
The university currently has a pending application before the South Orange Planning Board to build a new basketball facility on its 58-acre campus, which has prompted pushback from residents who want flooding issues addressed before any new construction begins.
“We’ve been coming to these meetings and trying to reach out to Seton Hall because evidently we are getting an unusual amount of water since they started development,” Newark homeowner Libre Jones said during a planning board meeting on Monday.
Baraka sent a letter to the planning board before Monday’s meeting. But planning board officials said they couldn’t delay hearing the application unless Seton Hall agreed to it.
Elnardo Webster, an attorney representing Seton Hall University, said the project would increase stormwater storage by 16% and help lessen the flooding. But he said any large solution to flooding would require collaboration with Essex County, which runs nearby Ivy Hill Park, and with both municipalities.
“What we’re designing doesn’t make it worse. This project at this time shouldn’t be held up or messed up because it doesn’t make it worse,” Webster said.
Newark officials are in the process of conducting an engineering study to pinpoint the cause of flooding. Essex County officials have suggested that runoff from the university’s parking deck could be to blame for the issues. City officials said they should know more in six months.
Residents of Newark's Ivy Hill neighborhood, which runs adjacent to the campus, began organizing after the remnants of Hurricane Ida flooded their basements and their cars. They began pressing the university and local officials to solve the flooding as climate change threatens strong storms.
They’ve been experiencing an example of urban flooding — which usually occurs in the absence of a body of water, and which experts say is often the result of development that didn’t consider or prioritize the impact on a community. Urban flooding is often a localized, small-scale issue that doesn’t rise to a federal disaster declaration, but can still be devastating to those involved. It also most often affects communities of color or resource-strapped communities already struggling with underinvestment in infrastructure.
Councilmember Dupre Kelly, who represents Newark's West Ward, said residents don’t want to stop the project, but want more to be done to address flooding in their neighborhood.
“These are homeowners that can't afford to keep building their basements over and over or their cars that were underwater so we’re just asking for some type of unity and to mitigate some of these issues and these concerns,” Kelly said.