If you build it, will they fight it?

While neighbors near Fairfield's golf course have waged a yearlong campaign against a girls softball field proposed for Hoydens Lane, some members of the Gould Manor Neighborhood Association are crying foul over plans to upgrade the Little League field at Gould Manor Park on their side of town.

A letter distributed by the Gould Manor Neighborhood Association board of directors claims the plans call for 10- to 15-foot high permanent fencing dividing the two fields, two permanent concrete dugouts, two batting practice cages with permanent fencing, and two 20-foot high yellow foul pole all to make the existing fields meet "international standards."

But those claims, said American Little League President David Pierpont, "are patently false."

Pierpont said the details of the plans were discussed numerous times with members of the neighborhood association. He said compromises on the plans were reached at a Dec. 17 meeting arbitrated by First Selectman Kenneth Flatto and attended by town Recreation Director Gerald Lombardo, two members of the Parks and Recreation Commission, American Little League and GMNA representatives Walter Bernd and Tony Pontecorvo.

"To be clear, there are no concrete dugouts. There are no batting cages," Pierpont said. "There will be temporary foul poles 12 to 15 feet high likely white in color. The necessary safety fencing which will comprise the dugouts and extend to the outer edge of the infield `dirt' will be 10 feet high dark color, vinyl coated and approximately 75 feet in length."

He said he has met with others who live in the immediate neighborhood who are "strong supporters" of the project.

"It is unfortunate that the GMNA continues to try and spin a negative impression about a project which clearly is a benefit to all families that enjoy the park," Pierpont said.

"The park is used by the entire neighborhood and used all year round," Pontecorvo said. With the fences being put up, even temporarily, "How the hell will anyone be able to use that park during the months Little League is playing there. The park becomes their park, the way it is up in Trumbull."

The GMNA board said it supports and welcomes the Little League and favors upgrading the existing the Gould Manor fields, moving the dugout back, and regrading and extending the left field into the incline with a retaining wall. Pontecorvo said he often goes to the park to watch the games, but said the Little League plans reflect only the desires of the players' parents, "stroking their egos."

"Unfortunately, the (Little League) isn't content to share Gould Manor Park with us," the GMNA letter states. "They want a park for themselves with two fields that meet international requirements."

They believe the changes will have a "severe impact" on the public's use of the park and warrant review by the Town Plan and Zoning Commission.

Assistant Planning Director James Wendt said it is the TPZ staff's opinion that since the town is not creating new ballfields or building additional fields at Gould Manor, but instead is re-orienting the existing fields, no action by the Town Plan and Zoning Commission is needed.

The concept for the park renovations did go before the Parks and Recreation Commission last year for approval. "They had an opportunity to air their concerns before the Parks Commission," Wendt said.

However, he said, the GMNA's request has been forwarded to the Town Plan and Zoning Commission members. "It remains to be seen what the outcome is," Wendt said.

The association's letter to Wendt states that new restrooms are being built, which Wendt said is not in the plan.

In addition to a letter-writing campaign to Flatto, the neighborhood group hopes to secure Community Development Block Grant funding to make improvements it favors for the park, and has submitted an application for a share of the funding.

"We want to turn this into a park for senior citizens," said Pontecorvo, the GMNA president. "There's nothing in Fairfield that helps seniors." He said they envision hiking and runnings trails, bocce courts, permanent tables for things like chess, additional picnic tables, jogging paths and possibly an improvement playground area for children.

"There are so many things that can be done," Pontecorvo said. "It really belongs to the neighborhood, not the Little League.

He said the block grant money would be funneled through the town. "There is money out there from the federal government," Pontecorvo said.

Economic Development Director Mark Barnhart said he did meet with the GMNA, but since the neighborhood group is neither a 502c3 group nor the property owner, it cannot submit an application. "The town could entertain their suggestions for park improvements, but DPW or Recreation would have to serve as the project sponsor since it is a town-owned park," according to Barnhart.

"We sent it directly to Mark," Pontecorvo said of the community development application. "He said anyone could apply for it, you didn't have to be on a commission or a public position, anyone could requisition or petition for this money."

According to emails from Flatto to neighbors, the Little League made a number of modifications in its plans that include dropping any cuts into the sledding hill and reducing outfield fence use. In addition, Flatto said the plans expand the length of uninhibited play area in certain areas of the park and removes bleachers from near the playground area. There will be, he said, as much park space after the work as there is today.

Town funds are not being used for any of the work, according to Flatto.