Mooney Lights: ZBA close to approving over abutters’ objections; Rec to work through conditions with neighbors tonight

Above: Baseball parents continue to push for a lit Little League field. But closely abutting homeowners object to the 60-70 foot lights. (image from Google Maps)

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. 

Robbins said:

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.”

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mike fuce
7 years ago

I feel badly that this is being ram-rodded through. What I have noticed over the years whether town politics, state or federal, it is the more wealthy that control and approve the agenda. I do not mean that as judgement, but the houses in the area are moderate, it is residential, and no one in their right mind and being honest would approve of the lights being in residential area – 20 feet from the neighborhood homes windows. Perhaps Rec and the little league can build a new stadium up on Presidential where St Marks wants to put solar – that’s a little tongue in cheek but why not I think some of the proponents for the lights on Parkerville live in that area right? Also, the variance is not being met (Massachusetts state law) and that is a serious legal issue for Town Counsel Ciprianno (sp). He will have to defend that for the town. The variance board, across the board, is in favor of the lights becasue they don’t live across, behind or beside the Mooney Field. Were there an original stipulations in the Mooney Land gift to not allow such things? Personally I have no horse in the race, we are far enough away, but, thinking of others, it is wrong.

John Kendall
7 years ago

Per usual, it’s US vs THEM. Another board being wrangled by a private group into not listening to the people who will be directly affected. This town sure has gone down hill over the last several years. It’s time for the various boards to listen to abutters, and say NO

Michael Robbins
7 years ago

The citation for the section that I quoted is from -Tsagronis v Board of Appeals town of Wrentham 415 Mass. 329, 331.
Again from the Mass. case law – “no one has a legal right to a variance and they are to be granted sparingly” Damaskos v Board of Appeals Boston 359 Mass. 55 , 61.

Mass. courts have held that the “hardship” “…must be linked, or be caused by the lands unique or problematic soil conditions shape or topography” Hurley v Kolligian 333 Mass 170, 173.
In my opinion, there was no effort or attempt by the proponents of the lights to meet the three legal requirements needed for a variance. Nor could not see any application of the law by the members. My opinion was that the decision to put the lights up was a foregone conclusion.
On a personal note – I am neither for or against these lights but feel for the neighbors whom will be directly impacted by these. Final note – I cannot imagine that these would be going up if they abutted Presidential…

Southern Breeze
7 years ago

I have now been to three meetings with the Recreation Department (RD) about the lights and am still of the opinion that it is a whole lot of money being paid for not a lot of reward to the populous in general. From my latest meeting, I have found out that the funding has already been approved taking monies from the Community Preservation Act. This is a sum of roughly $230,000 plus maintenance agreements for many years to come. While I realize that that fund is for developing outdoor recreational facilities, this project is specifically developing a single baseball diamond for use by under 12 Little League players only. The view from the RD is that they have to maximize the fields that we have and being able to move some U12 baseball off diamonds at Neary/Trottier to practice at night at Finn will allow other field sports (soccer, lacrosse) to practice on the fields that would otherwise be used by those baseball teams.
It really feels like a rush to spend monies that could be better thought out to reach a much wider audience. With the potential golf course open space coming up, perhaps a broader scope opportunity will arise in that project instead.
That said, I also feel that the abutters voices have been acknowledged with some concessions, but the overall push is to just get it done.

Southern Breeze
7 years ago
Reply to  Beth Melo

I was clearly told by the Recreation Commission at the meeting last week that the monies have been approved to come from the CPA fund already. Maybe what was meant was that if it gets approved at the town meeting, the CPA has already earmarked the funding? I’ll be at the meeting for sure.

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