ZBA approves variances for lights at Mooney Field and Richardson Courts

Above: ZBA granted variances to light athletic fields and tennis courts (images from Google maps)

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.

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D. McGee
7 years ago

I highly doubt that a court would agree with the ZBA on their interpretation of “hardship” in the Mooney Filed decision. I feel for the abutters, because after looking to the ZBA to do their jobs and uphold the Zoning Code as it’s written, their only recourse now is to spend a fortune appealing the decision. Just another example of an out of control ZBA that is consistently pro-business and continues to craft decisions in opposition to the Zoning Code to achieve its ends.

7 years ago

I agree, I was at the meeting and what Mr Bartolini said made absolutely no sense. “The lights are not allowed by code so that’s the hardship”. What does that mean???? I guess the Zoning Board of Approvals is back again.

Joe Kacevich
7 years ago

In regards to Mr. Mike Robbins comment pertaining to the lights on the Neary skating pond, that he “believed that they had gotten around the promises then by saying it wasn’t part of the campus or a playing field” is inaccurate. The skating pond, and the lights,existed before the construction of the Trottier School. Mr. Robbins knows this to be true, as I also forwarded to him the meeting minutes of the Recreation Facilities Committee meeting on March 4,1995, at which the lights on the Neary skating pond were discussed.

Carl Guyer
7 years ago

So it is Friday afternoon and I again see an article here about lighting up recreation fields. Every time I hear about this project it reminds me of the enormous gap that exists between what is happening before our eyes and what people still believe or better yet care not to believe. The CO2 concentration in the atmosphere at the end of February was 407 ppm and as usual will peak in May at 410 ppm. On and on the relentless climb in CO2 concentration not only continues but it is accelerating. This is a 46 % increase in component of the atmosphere important to existence of life here on Earth and the modulation of the Earth’s temperature. In ten years we will be past 450 ppm, a concentration level that last existed before the Ice Ages. We already have serious problems with our current habits regarding fossil fuel consumption, so any new frivilious use of energy should automaticly be a non-starter, but we are far, far away from that time. These lights are not the end of world, but they certainly are a case study in human behavior and culture. An interesting time to be alive.

Michael Robbins
7 years ago

Hello – I personally disagreed with both of the ZBA’s decision’s regarding lighting of the fields.

I struggle with the finding of a legal “hardship” required for a variance in both cases. I also believe that had Mooney field abutted other neighborhoods – these lights would not have been allowed.

However, I did feel that the Board applied the legal requirements for a variance.

The Board has a hard job weighing the pro’s and con’s of any decision and did feel that they listened to the parties, weighed the requirements and made their decision. I did not like the decision but did respect this process. I truly appreciate their time and attention.

With respect to the Tennis courts, I am still looking for any minutes / written documentation of the promises not to install lighting (as my time allows ) on these fields.

To Joe’s comment about the hockey pond lights / time table – I am sure he is correct and it was not my intent to mislead any facts. The documents he provided (thank you again) were helpful but I had reviewed those for content relating to promises regarding the lights / school. I had not thought about the pond and when those lights had been installed. My comments in relation to those lights and how they were allowed were incorrect . I apologize for my misstatement and any confusion on that point.

Finally, Doreen and Brian the recreation commission members were helpful and friendly throughout – thank you for your time and professionalism (even though I do not want these lights, or any more:)


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