Extra innings: Farifield American LL home field plans not clinched
Published 7:30 am, Thursday, August 4, 2011
The Board of Selectmen will convene a special meeting Friday to vote on an agreement between the town and the champion Fairfield American Little League for the renovation of Gould Manor Park into its new home field.
On Wednesday, the selectmen were not prepared to take action on the agreement because a map of the proposed changes to the fields was not included in the package and the Gould Manor Neighborhood Association did not have a chance to review the final draft. The draft agreement, including the map, will be posted on the home page of the town's website -- www.fairfieldct.org -- and on its newly created Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/fairfieldct, according to interim First Selectman Michael Tetreau.
The selectmen's special meeting will take place at 4 p.m. Friday in Sullivan-Independence Hall.
The agreement, drafted by Assistant Town Attorney Eileen Kennelly in early July, spells out the responsibility of the Fairfield American organization and protects the town from incurring any costs. The Gould Manor neighbors, according to Tetreau, provided input into the provisions of the agreement, which was finalized July 29, based on GMNA members' concerns about the project.
Additionally, the agreement, among other issues, requires a letter of credit or performance bond from Fairfield American, specifies the height and length of certain fences surrounding the fields, as well as how long home-run fences will be in place during the playing season, and a list of insurance provisions.
The Little League, which is paying for the entire project, wants to reconfigure the park's two baseball fields, whose outfields now are back-to-back, install safety and separation fences and make other improvements.
Tetreau said the final draft of the agreement was not sent to the Gould Manor neighborhood in time to have residents review it by Wednesday's meeting. He suggested postponing action until the selectmen's meeting in two weeks.
But David Pierpont, the president of Fairfield American Little League, told the selectmen that a two-week delay would seriously hamper the project. "It would postpone the project for a year, minimally," he said, to which a member of the audience uttered "good" before she was reprimanded by Tetreau. The first-floor conference room at Sullivan-Independence Hall primarily was filled with Gould Manor neighbors, who spoke about their discontent with the project and then departed after the selectmen's discussion of the agenda item ended.
Pierpont said the project has received the approval of the Parks and Recreation and Conservation commissions and the town's Engineering Department. "The contract certainly to protect the town is a good thing and I think it also is an extra step that certainly we are happy to go forward with."
He said he was told by the project contractors that the "week of Aug. 1 is the week we need to start because the leveling of the fields needs to occur so we can get down to proper topsoil to make sure the grass is set and seeded appropriately, they have to have enough watering time for the initial growth and germination of the seed and they have to go through a mowing process."
He added, "I wouldn't want anything other than a 100 percent chance of success at this. I really wouldn't."
When he addressed the agreement, he said, "I'm not sure what is changing in this contract relative to the project at all. There's nothing that hasn't been reviewed multiple times, not only by ourselves but by the town and by the neighborhood as well. The only things that are added to this particular contract are commitments on our part. Beyond that, everything is the same. And the rest of the contract is financially oriented.
"So unless the neighborhood has a stake in kicking in some money to make this happen, I'm not sure what the language in the contract is that impacts the neighborhood at all."
In the meantime, some Gould Manor neighbors spoke about their dislike for the project as well as not having enough time to review the final document.
Tony Pontecorvo, the president of the GMNA, said the neighborhood had received a copy of the agreement only earlier in the day and asked for the full two-week delay so his neighbors could be notified. He said the neighborhood is "very upset" and finds the project "offensive," and he reminded the selectmen that the park is used by many people. "Little League is a guest."
He also disputed Pierpont's contention about the grass-growing season. "I'm a gardener -- grass is a cold-growing object. That's all I can say about grass."
She and other Gould Manor neighbors said they were unaware of the project plan. "We didn't hear about this until early this summer," said Hennessy.
But Parks and Recreation Director Gerald Lombardo, who said the level of use of the park will not change, detailed a list of meeting dates, starting with March 2010 when Fairfield American first approached the commission, which some of the Gould Manor neighbors attended. A May 2010 meeting was conducted at the park attended by Parks and Recreation commissioners, Gould Manor area Representative Town Meeting members and a few neighbors. He also said the commission considered a request by Liz Hoffman, RTM member from District 8, to reverse its vote on the project, but decided against it after subsequent meetings.
While saying that the Parks and Recreation Commission was not even aware there was a neighborhood association for the Gould Manor area, Lombardo noted that the commission did its best to get the information out.
When he returned to the meeting room after his phone call, Pierpont told the selectmen that a decision by Friday would help the project move forward. Once the agreement is approved, work at the park will begin immediately.
Walter Bernd, also of the GMNA, urged the selectmen to give the neighbors time to review the document in its entirety. "Quite frankly, we are owed that." He also said that some Gould Manor neighbors do not have computers, so the association has to rely on regular mail when it alerts its members.
Tetreau clarified that the agreement spells out that the town owns the fields and the park changes. A number of changes were made to the plan and agreement based on the neighborhood's concerns, he said.
As for the neighborhood being aware of the project, Tetreau noted that he recalled numerous press reports over the last year and that the GMNA sent out an 1,100-piece mailing a few months ago. "So in terms of letting the neighborhood know, I don't know if there's been another project that has gotten more publicity in a neighborhood locale."