Even in the height of summer, Michael Facchiano often has Crystal Lake to himself. It’s the best place in West Orange for nature viewing, he said, and strangely the most hidden away.
“A lot of people in town don’t even know this place exists,” said Facchiano, an amateur fisherman who catches bass, catfish and bluegill. “You wouldn’t believe the different types of wildlife you can see.”
Facchiano, like many residents, was worried to learn about the gigantic public storage facility that is offered along the eastern shore of this historic lake near the edge of an old quarry. The original plan, which was presented to the zoning board last month, calls for the cutting of 38 trees and cutting a slope at an angle prohibited by the township ordinance. The project is also criticized for only reserving two parking spaces for visitors to the lake.
Jarrod Yates, vice president of public storage, initially refused to grant the zoning council’s request to reduce the building to three stories and 41,000 square feet, before asking for an adjournment until mid- December. For reference, the existing structure that once housed a bowling alley measures approximately 25,000 square feet.
The proposal follows a report in The Star-Ledger which questioned whether the mountain-top sports facility at Seton Hall Prep, which required dismantling an old-growth forest, caused a landslide in September in the Ron- apartments. Jolyn nearby. Mayor Rob Parisi calls on state for city-wide geotechnical study as council members seek ways to regulate mountainside construction, including a moratorium and changes to the Slopes Ordinance steep.
“Our order right now says we can incorporate grade leveling,” McCartney said. “But he’s not dealing with the cliff face and any setbacks on top of the cliff.”
The safest bet, for many, is to limit construction to the top of the quarry, or better yet, to preserve the land for outdoor recreation as there are several moons.
Joe Fagan, the city’s historian, once said that Crystal Lake may be “the most forgotten chapter in the history of Western Orange.” In the 1890s, Crystal Lake grew into a sought-after seaside resort that provided year-round entertainment for nearly seven decades. In winter, skating championships and hockey games are held. In summer, overdressed Victorians feasted at the hotel restaurant and were entertained by “moving pictures” and circus acts like tightrope walkers. The carnival atmosphere put owner John English in hot water when he was accused of selling alcohol on Sunday – against the law in 1914. The accuser, an Anti-Saloon official League, then withdrew its complaint.
Crystal Lake has become a full-fledged amusement park under the leadership of Hugh Mitchell. The 1960s, however, saw its eventual decline. The gated complex has become a ghost town and the lake a glorified swamp until a developer revitalized the area as part of a redevelopment deal earlier in the years.
Lately, visitors can get a glimpse of the heyday of Crystal Lake. Live music can sometimes be heard at the western end of the water at the OSPAC Amphitheater. A longstanding township tradition, the Fishing Derby, has recently been moved to the lake, ensuring it is stocked with a variety of aquatic species. But Bill Kehoe, director of the Recreation Department, agrees that more could be done to attract tourists there.
“It’s a little rustic there – it makes you feel like you’re fishing somewhere in the deep woods,” Kehoe said. “There is still a lot of untapped potential out there. “