Officials are seeking permits this Wednesday that may allow the Town to renege on promises purportedly made to residents over 20 years ago.
The project seems fairly innocuous. Town Recreation is seeking to light Richardson Tennis courts. That would extend the evening hours courts are available for residents to use.
The desire for more court time something that many residents have asked for or supported. Which is why it makes sense for the Recreation Commission and Rec Department to pursue the project.
But two issues popped up in public meetings. One is that the height variance requested seems to be outside the zoning laws. (The same as Rec’s variance request for Mooney field lights.)
The second is the promises made by officials when they sought support to build Trottier Middle School.
Deerfoot Road resident Michael Robbins explained that when the Town proposed building Trottier Middle School, there were “epic battles” over it. Many meetings were held with concerned abutters. One big objection was the worry that a combined campus would end up being covered in industrial lit athletic fields.
To assuage abutters, Robbins claims that Recreation and school officials promised that the campus fields wouldn’t be lit.
It is a recollection that has purportedly been confirmed by former Recreation Facilities Committee Chair Joe Kacevich* and Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf.
Robbins has also located a January 1996 memo written by the School Building Planning Committee Chair, documenting the committee’s Q&A with residents at one of those meetings. I’ve included two excerpts from the memo below:
The first indicates that the board told residents that lighting decisions would be under the school committee’s jurisdiction. The second reassures that they the committee wasn’t looking to light playing fields. (Note: That memo didn’t sepecify a long term promise.)
The promises pre-dated the current Recreation Director and Commission members. At a Zoning Board of Appeal meeting, Rec Director Doreen Ferguson said she was initially unaware. But she had since heard from Kacevich that promises were made.
But unless abutters discover restrictions in writing, Recreation seems not to be treating those promises as binding for the entire Neary “campus”.
The tennis courts are on the Parkerville Road side of campus. But Robbins is worried about the precedent breaking the promise would set. If this is approved, he forecasts future projects to light other fields on campus.
In my last communication with him, Robbins planned to follow up to see if he can get minutes from the School Committee meetings related to the lights.
At a Zoning Board of Appeals meeting two weeks ago, the board agreed to continue the hearing to allow Robbins more time to research.
At that meeting, Robbins repeated another issue he already raised over the Mooney Field lights earlier that evening. He pointed out that the height variances requested don’t seem allowable by law.
According to Robbins’ research, variances must be based on:
circumstances relating to soil conditions, topography or shape of land or structures
Again, those comments went unanswered by the ZBA. Instead members and Ferguson focused on concessions related to the hours of light use, removal of a strangely placed pole no longer in use, and other project details.
The hearing, along with the hearing for Mooney Field, is set to resume this Wednesday night.
Recreation is looking to fund both projects through CPA funds. If the ZBA grants variances, funding of the items would be voted on at this spring’s Annual Town Meeting.
Updated (3/1/17 12:22 pm): Joe Kacevich corrected that he was the Chair of an ad hoc Recreation Facilities Committee, not the Recreation Commission. He also had other clarifications he wanted to add. You can see those in his comment below.