Fight over girls' softball field heads to extra innings
Proponents of a girls' softball field on Hoydens Lane got to throw out the first pitch at a Town Plan and Zoning Commission hearing on the project Tuesday night, but opponents were quick to step up to the plate and urge the commission to throw the plan out.
The TPZ hearing, suspended at a late hour Tuesday, has been continued to Oct. 12.
Neighbors' concerns include more traffic on a road that is very narrow in some stretches; threatening property values in the Triple-A residential zone; the loss of town-owned open space, and the possibility that more ballfields could be built on the 9-acre parcel in the future.
Hoydens Lane resident Ellen Harrington, who lives across the street from the driving range for the town-owned H. Smith Richardson Golf Course, said she has seen several references by town officials indicating there could be more than one ballfield at the property, saying there is a possibility for a "multi-sport recreational facility" there.
But John Fallon, the lawyer representing the town project, said the proposal is for one field only. He also pointed out that the town's largest recreational facility -- the Smith Richardson course and driving range -- is more than 40 years old, and the former Parsells site where the ballfield would be built was acquired with the goal of using at least part of for active recreation.
He presented the TPZ with a copy of its own favorable referral on the land purchase that recommended active field use.
Should the town consider adding more fields on the property in the future, Fallon said, the town would need to come back to the zoning board, because this requested permit is for one field.
Liz Hoffman, a Lovers Lane resident and Representative Town Meeting member, said Fallon is in error and that the property was purchased for active and passive recreational use.
The softball field would use about one acre of the site. The project includes a gravel parking lot and driveway and bathroom facilities. The lot and bathroom would be shared with the adjacent driving range.
When Hoffman started to discuss the unsuccessful referendum that she spearheaded last month to try to overturn the $350,000 construction funding for the field, TPZ Chairman Seth Baratz said the commission is not concerned with financial issues, but whether the proposal meets the requirements for a special exception permit.
While Fallon referred to the single ballfield as a "benign" development, Hoffman questioned, if that was so, why many people oppose the plan. A group of neighbors has filed a petition to be designated an intervenor in the application, and they are expected to begin their presentation when the next hearing is scheduled.
Several Hoyden's Lane neighbors presented the commission with letter and photos, detailing what they say are problems with drainage and traffic safety.
Harrington suggested the property either be left as passive open space or sold to a private developer.
Recreation Director Gerald Lombardo gave the commission a multi-colored chart indicating when and by whom the different fields in town are used. He also said that changes in girls fast-pitch softball at the high school level will eliminate two fields from being used by the Fairfield Little League Girls Softball. At the high school level, the pitching rubber next season will be moved to 43 feet, compared to 40 feet. Softball and baseball fields are not interchangeable, since softball has a dirt infield.