Tennis Court Lights: Town reneging on promise to Trottier abutters? (Updated)

by beth on February 28, 2017

Post image for Tennis Court Lights: Town reneging on promise to Trottier abutters? (Updated)

Above: When the Town sought necessary votes to build Trottier Middle School, officials allegedly promised that fields on the combined Neary-Trottier campus wouldn’t be lit. A request to light Tennis Courts has at least one neighbor concerned about setting precedent on ignoring that promise. (image from Google Maps)

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:

school building planning committee Q&A jurisdiction school building planning committee Q&A lighting

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

(You can read more about that in the post on Mooney field, and his comment under that story.)

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.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Alan February 28, 2017 at 12:37 PM

As for the Mooney field lighting, the use of the word “concessions” scares me. How soon would those “concessions” be forgotten or stretched. Long Cadillac agreed not to use Middle rd for test drives and that lasted about six months and now they use it daily. Lets just plain not go down the lighting of Mooney field path. Once they are up, the rules will change.

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2 Tim Martel February 28, 2017 at 1:11 PM

Out of curiosity, how does one expect “Elected Official B” to be held responsible for promises made by “Elected Official A”? That seems like expecting Donald Trump to honor a promise made by Bill Clinton 20 years ago…

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3 beth February 28, 2017 at 1:43 PM

I understand your point. But, this is a small town, not Washington, DC. Town officials often make assurances to the public in order to overcome objections or gain support for something they are trying to do.

When residents question whether officials’ promises will be kept, those officials often react with deep offense.

Unless there is a truly compelling reason, I think our officials should make an effort to keep promises made by past Town officials to residents. Otherwise, they risk residents’ even deeper mistrust when another controversial article is up for vote. (Like, say, a public safety building.)

Regardless, it highlights that if residents want Town officials to keep promises going forward, they better make sure they are somehow legally binding.

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4 Resident February 28, 2017 at 4:12 PM

I think, for me, the issue has indeed become distrust in the BOS. With all the difficult issues that have come up lately including Park Central, the PSC, and the lights at Mooney, Choate and Trottier, I no longer have faith that the BOS is working for the town nor are they being transparent on these issues.

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5 beth February 28, 2017 at 4:19 PM

I should point out that (to my knowledge) as a board, Selectmen haven’t weighed in on the lights. The request is being made by the Recreation Commission. They went before the CPC and are in process of applying to the ZBA and Planning Board. But I don’t believe the Board of Selectmen have a direct role.

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6 Resident February 28, 2017 at 7:49 PM

My thoughts exactly.

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7 Joe Kacevich March 1, 2017 at 11:31 AM

Beth,

Some clarifications are in order. First, I chaired the Recreation Facilities Committee, ad hoc, not the Recreation Commission. Second, I spoke with Mr. Robbins on the phone and agreed to review the rather voluminous records I have kept for all issues that came before our Committee, including the subject of lighting the Neary/Trottier campus. I reviewed the minutes of numerous meetings held by the Recreation Facilities Committee, ad hoc and could not find any evidence that we ever took a formal vote on the subject of lighting the Neary/Trottier campus.

As a former member of the School Building Planning Committee, I also provided Mr. Robbins with the minutes of a meeting that the SBPC held with abutters and interested citizens on January 9, 1996.When queried by residents if there were plans to light the Trottier athletic fields, the SBPC stated that a) the “control ” of the school properties lies with the Southborough School Committee and b) that the SBPC had no plans, or funds, to light the playing fields. It was clearly stated that any funds for lighting the Neary/Trottier fields would have to be approved at Town Meeting, since such funding was not included in the Trottier School construction budget.

The issue of lighting the Neary tennis courts did not arise at the meeting of January 6, 1996. The Neary tennis courts were considered to be a part of the Neary/Trottier campus by the SBAB and thus received the same reimbursement as did the school, the track, the athletic fields, etc.

I urged Mr. Robbins to request the meeting minutes of the Southborough School Committee during that time period, in order to verify if a vote was ever taken by that Committee, pertaining to lighting the Neary/Trottier fields. I also conveyed to Mr. Robbins that the skating pond, located directly behind the present location of the Neary tennis courts, was, in fact, lighted, thanks to the generosity of a local electrician. That skating pond was enjoyed by many for a few years.

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