Last night, the Zoning Board of Appeals granted height variances to allow lighting poles for a baseball diamond at Finn School and Tennis Courts at Neary School.
The board decided that “substantial hardship” applies to not having well lighted playing fields. They also apparently determined that the “structures” that allows for the variance were the lights themselves.
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.
Mooney Field abutter Jim Norcross told the board he didn’t believe that “substantial hardship” had been proven. Instead they were creating a hardship for neighbors.
ZBA Chair Dennington answered:
they already have the right to light up [Mooney Field] and put up the poles at 20 feet. So, the issue is it a hardship for the recreation department. . . for this property to have, to illuminate the field but only have 20 feet to do it. That’s how I see it. And I think based on their presentation, you really couldn’t do it with poles that go up to 20 feet. Because its a baseball field, it’s a unique property.
In a past meeting, Richardson Court abutter Mike Robbins commented:
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”
ZBA member Leo Bartolini appeared to try to answer that last night when he stated in the Mooney Field hearing:
on the hardships. . . it’s also to do with structure. And due to the fact that these poles are 60-7 [sic] feet high that is the structure of the property, so that becomes a hardship for them.
Norcross made a last plea for the board to deny the Mooney lights. He said that after a day’s work, he comes home and has to deal with the noise from the field across the street:
It’s nice when they leave, and you’re going to push that back even further.
The abutter admitted to being emotional, saying that the lights would hurt his property value and effect him for the rest of his life. He said other neighbors didn’t bother to turn out last night because the board had already indicated it would be approving the request.
The board unanimously approved Recreation and Little League’s request for the lights. The decision included conditions to restrict lighting hours to no longer than 9:00 pm, along with other concessions to neighbors to limit use of lights (e.g., no extra play or practice after games end.)
For the Richardson Tennis Courts, Robbins again addressed the board. But first, abutter Chris Robbins spoke. He told the board they were making the right decision by supporting the court. As a member of the Economic Development Committee he understood the value of recreational areas for the community. He simply asked the board to include concessions like screening with trees to block eventually block his view of the lights.
Mike Robbins readdressed the promises purportedly made by the Town to residents about lighting fields. He said that it appears the Site Plan for Trottier Middle School isn’t recorded. Both Planning and Conservation have dug through their records. And he said they will be digging through files in the basement.
Recreation Director Doreen Ferguson said that while some officials may have made promises, they don’t appear to be included as part of the official conditions. The most found in documents show that the school building committee wasn’t planning to light fields as part of their project. But this is a Recreation project for the Town.
And ZBA member Bartolini stated that they weren’t included in the Town Meeting vote to approve the school.
The fact that an ice pond was previously lit at the school was raised. Mike Robbins believed they had gotten around the promises then by saying it wasn’t part of the campus or a playing field.
Dennington said that he believed that the area is already well lit with street lights, so didn’t understand concern about the court lights. Mike Robbins said that because the area is already well lit, he doesn’t want it to get worse.
The board again voted unanimously to support the variance for lights with conditions.