Planning Board approved Mooney and Richardson lights (in December)

Above: The Planning Board approved Recreation’s Site Plans for lighting athletic fields and tennis courts (images from Google maps)

I’m trying to catch up on Town news I didn’t have time to dig into last month. One of those items is the long awaited lighting projects proposed for Mooney Baseball Field and the Richardson Tennis Courts. Site Plan Approvals from the Planning Board came through on December 14th.

The decisions did come with conditions. For each project the Planning Board will have one year after completion to review the lighting:

During this review period, the Planning Board reserves the right to require adjustment of the number and/or intensity of exterior fixtures, if it determines illumination is insufficient or spill-over onto adjacent property is excessive. This is subject to the understanding that lighting levels will not go below standard safety requirements. Night time lighting shall be minimized to the extent possible based upon usage of the property and standard safety requirements. All adjustments will be made by the Recreation Department.

Another condition requires replacing any trees damaged during construction or that die within one year of construction “if identified on the plans in close proximity to the project.”

One issue with the Mooney Field project the project engineer had been working on this fall was to minimize “light trespass” onto an abutting residence across the street. (Although it’s a lit street, Southborough’s zoning bylaws call for zero light trespass on abutting properties.) The Board’s approval included a waiver to allow a sliver. The decision explains:

Plans show less than 1% of light trespass on the neighboring property line across Parkerville Road; minimal and not visible to the naked eye.

Richardson Tennis Court lights control box will allow users to turn on the lights by pressing a button – but only activate within allowed hours. The Mooney lights will be controlled by Recreation Director Tim Davis.

The Mooney lights approval process took much longer and required more effort than project proponents (including members of Little League) had opined it should. Adding to the approval timeline was back and forth between the project team and Planning’s Peer Review consultants Fuss & O’Neill. (That included a delayed response to the team’s response.)

This fall, commenters at hearings and on the blog expressed frustration at Planning for what they saw as unnecessary red tape. That concern was repeated by Recreation Commission’s Kristen Lavault at the second-to-last hearing.

On November 30th, weighing in again as a resident, Lavault continued to urge a “post mortem” review be held following the decision. She said she would be seeking Board of Selectmen support for bringing in someone with experience who wasn’t closely connected to the process. She hoped to look at how “communication bottlenecks” and “non-value add activity” occurred, to avoid future repeats.

Lavault stated the approval process felt “somewhat archaic”. She opined that the number of hearings held was caused by discussions in hearings that were like “translating notes between three teams that haven’t actually sat down and talked to one another”.

Planning Chair Don Morris defended that he spent time going through the project history and couldn’t find at any time where the Board or Planning Department caused any delay. He said that Town Planner Karina Quinn went way beyond her job performing hours of review as a team player on a project for the Town.

Davis agreed. He said that he needed to explain to the public in defense of Planning and Recreation. While the project began in 2017, “legitimate plans” were only put into place in March 2020 right before the Covid shutdown. Prior to that work had been done “but not up to stuff on what’s needed”. 

As for the lack of communication LaVault referred to “between three teams”, that was also highlighted earlier in the meeting and ultimately resolved prior to the following (and final) hearing. 

During the November 30th hearing, representatives for Recreation’s contractors expressed frustration that F&O’s most recent comments indicated the consultants didn’t understand how the lighting control system for the Mooney project worked. That was despite the systems having been explained at the prior hearing – which F&O did not attend. Morris said the next step was to get the parties on the line to work through details.

Town Planner Karina Quinn noted that some back and forth would have been avoided if the contractor had provided clearer responses to F&O’s comments. She also pointed out that details not included on the plans could cause contractor confusion, leading to a potential costly change order on the project.

Discussions in the meeting revealed that the lighting project team was referring to structural plans stamped in July 2020 that Planning never received and weren’t included in the September submission packet. Planning had received plans stamped in 2018 – a date Quinn had highlighted last summer as outdated and might require a supplemental letter. The project team wasn’t sure how that happened.

Recreation Director Tim Davis asked his lighting contractor about the difference between the 2018 and 2020 plans. Mike Berry of Musco Lighting said the updated pole heights were lower and that was the only change “for the most part”.

In mid-November, Recreation Director Tim Davis had indicated he would take a firm stand against extending the Planning’s decision period for the Mooney lights. On November 30th Davis asked about what would happen if he did that. Vice Chair Andrew Mills said he wasn’t prepared to approve plans that Planning, F&O, and even Davis hadn’t seen. Davis then acknowledged he didn’t really have a choice but to extend the approval period to allow a final hearing on December 14th.

With F&O comments still not fully resolved on the Richardson project, that approval period was also extended.

Between the hearings, an offline meeting was held with F&O to work through outstanding issues on both lighting projects.*

Mills recapped the Richardson Courts discussion for fellow Planning members. He informed them that F&O was made more comfortable with the timing of lighting, and Davis’ control. The consultants asked for a button to be added to the light box, allowing users to request light.

Following the offline meeting, consultant Fuss & O’Neill issued a letter for each project opining that all of their prior concerns had been addressed. The Board voted unanimously to approve each project (though two members recused themselves from the Richardson decision as abutters to the parcel.)

Following the Mooney approval, Davis thanked Quinn and Planning’s assistant for their essential support through the process.

The decision was appealable for twenty days following the vote. That period has expired without a filed appeal.

*It appeared that at least one Planning Board member (Andrew Mills) participated in the meeting, but there wasn’t a quorum. The meeting included Fuss & O’Neill, Recreation Director Tim Davis, and the lighting project team.

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3 years ago

As a taxpayer, it is striking to see Ms. Lavault’s disappointing continual disrespect for Planning Board, elected officials who deserve respect. Also, the ludicrous arrogance of Recreation’s Mr. Tim Davis is underscored by his silly tantrum, empty threat, and whining about having to follow standard review procedures and then having to wait and actually follow them. Recreation is an embarrassment to this town. Is any else sick of their misuse of town funds and overspending? Especially during a pandemic? Why in God’s name are we buying more lights? Get rid of these disrespectful, whining scofflaws who overspend at every opportunity and think they are above everyone else in not having to follow standard procedures. No one is irreplaceable and this town can do better. Sick and tired of the lack of common sense on spending and the Recreation tail wagging the town dog.

3 years ago

Beth, the article above describes the Recreation Commission Kristen LaVault’s disappointing and inappropriate reactions to elected officials. She and Mr. Davis need to read the external auditors report by Melanson Heath, calling out serious concerns over accounting, reporting, and spending irregularities. Specifically, the report calls out the Recreation Commission for building up its revolving fund for capital expenditures and bypassing the taxpayers on Town Meeting floor. Hard to figure out what is going on here and that report is worth re-reading. Beth, can you please provide the link to that report here? Thank you for your good articles.

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