At a hearing last night, the Zoning Board of Appeals informally supported a variance for lights at Mooney field. Before continuing the hearing, members indicated they would vote to approve with conditions.
Notably, members never addressed objections that the requested height variance doesn’t appear to meet legal requirements. (More on that later in the story.)
The conditions of approval would be based on promises made by Little League and Southborough Recreation to neighbors at a meeting last week. A final policy still needs to be worked out. The Recreation Commission hopes to achieve that a their meeting tonight.
A policy was drafted by Rec and Little League following last week’s meeting. Rec Director Doreen Ferguson said she forwarded the agreement to abutters but got little feedback. Last night, commenters pointed out that the draft didn’t accurately capture all of the promises.
The ZBA directed the Little League to attend tonight’s Rec meeting to update and clarify the policy. The board also urged abutters to attend.
Most of the promises (and discrepencies) related to hours of operations. But one important change not captured was a decision to use LED lights. Rec Commission Chair Brian Shifrin said LEDs were originally ruled out as more expensive up front. (Apparently energy efficiency projections weren’t good enough to justify the costs.) After realizing that LEDs would have lower impact to neighbors, the Commission decided to deal with the extra cost.
At the hearing’s start, Dennington summarized several submitted letters in support of the lights. But during public comment, it was mostly the objecting residents who came to the mic.
Abutters said they appreciated Rec and Little League working with them. And most understood Little League’s and Town Rec’s strong desire for lighted fields. But they still objected to installing them.
Abutter Jim French said that about 7 houses are right there at the field. He has never seen a lighted Little League field with houses that close (unless buffered by woods). Donna Merloni, who lives directly across the street, said that it will effect neighbors long after the current board of Little League has moved on. And Jim Norcross said he didn’t think anyone in that room would want the lights across from their house.
And one repeated objection was never directly addressed. Abutter Amy Norcross questioned if the variance met hardship requirements.
Following up, resident Mike Robbins of Deerfoot Road asked to confirm that the variance was under Chapter 40A.* He then pointed out that wanting to play baseball after dark doesn’t apply to soil, topography or shape of land.
the hardship is not a public want or need. The supreme court, Mass SJC, “unless circumstances relating to the soil conditions of the land, shape of the land, or topography of the land causes the hardship, no variance shall be granted lawfully”
Chair Andrew Dennington responded “OK. Thanks”. But neither he, other board members, or the applicant ever re-addressed the issue.
The closest thing to follow up was later statements about Little League’s need for lights. And one commenter from Little League explained that 20 foot lights shining in players eyes would be a safety issue.
No variance would be required to install 20 foot lights. But lower lights are described as more intrusive to neighbors. The higher set lights allow for more shielding and directing of the downwards into fields with less “spillage”.
When board members answered a “straw poll” on where they stood, members said they were in favor with conditions.**
The hearing is continued to March 1st at 7:00 pm. The hearing on Neary Tennis Court lights was continued to the same night. (Stay tuned for more on that. It deserves a post of its own.)
*Town Code Chapter 174-25A(3) specifies that the ZBA has the power to grant height variances under these conditions:
where the Board finds that, due to circumstances relating to soil conditions, topography or shape of land or structures and especially affecting such land or structures but not affecting generally the zoning district in which they are located, literal enforcement of this chapter would involve substantial hardship to the appellant or petitioner and that the desired relief may be granted without substantial detriment to the public good and without nullifying or substantially derogating from the intent or purpose of this chapter.
**One member David Williams did qualify his support a little: “I struggle a little with it, but I think I’m in favor of it with conditions.”