It wasn’t a rain delay that postponed Thursday’s matchup between proponents of a plan to add a second baseball diamond at Veira Park in Oak Bluffs and a group of neighbors who oppose the expanded facility on grounds that it will create problems with noise, traffic and safety.
A public hearing before the Martha’s Vineyard Commission was instead postponed — actually continued — due to a potential lighting problem.
“I understand they shut the lights off at 11 p.m. sharp,” said hearing chairman Christina Brown at the Oak Bluffs senior center where the hearing had been moved to accommodate the large crowd who turned out for the hotly contested Veira Park plan.
As a result Thursday’s hearing was a largely one-sided affair. Proponents had the chance to speak at length, while time ran out before just a handful of opponents had taken the floor.
The hearing will reopen on Oct. 18.
Sponsored by Vineyard Little League, the plan calls for building a second baseball diamond, new seating for fans, an unpaved parking area off the road and a picnic and play area. The plan was approved by Oak Bluffs voters at the annual town meeting in April.
Since then the plan has turned into an acrimonious bureaucratic tangle pitting a group of Little Leaguers against a group of neighbors worried about noise and traffic.
A group called the Coalition to Save Veira Park circulated a petition in June calling for the $200,000 approved at town meeting for the project to be rescinded. The petition netted more than 100 signatures, prompting selectmen to put an article on a special town meeting warrant. The article was defeated by nine votes at an emotional town meeting. Two weeks later, selectmen referred the plan to the commission for review as a development of regional impact (DRI).
On Thursday, DRI coordinator Paul Foley said the commission has received 51 letters on the proposal — most opposed.
An MVC staff report concludes that the neighborhood would be negatively impacted by the increase in parking on crowded Naushon avenue during Little League season and by the loss of open space. On the other hand, the plan calls for the installation of a stop sign and stop bar at the South Circuit avenue approach to Wing Road as well as crosswalks to provide pedestrians with guidance in crossing the street to alert drivers, Mr. Foley said And the installation of fencing around the diamond areas will reduce the potential conflict between foul balls and vehicles, he said.
Sam Berlow, president of Vineyard Little League, said there are currently about 100 families with more than one child who plays Little League. Adding a second field at Veira Park would make travel easier for those parents and would also make it easier to maintain the fields.
Mr. Berlow said the league has gone to great lengths to work with neighbors and come up with the best possible plan for everyone.
“Our first plans had lights, a concession stand, permanent bathrooms . . . we even had an Island version of Fenway Park complete with our little Purple Monster. Since then we’ve changed the plans several times to accommodate the neighbors. We’ve eliminated the lights and the concession stand, we’ve moved up the parking areas to save some trees, we’ve eliminated parking and got rid of a permanent fence,” he said.
Mr. Berlow argued the location was the league’s best and only option.
“What we have proposed is infinitely better than what is there now. Yes, the park will be used more often and more people will be there [on certain days], but it improves the parking, it improves the facilities for the children, it improves the park for passive and active recreation. It’s good for Little League and it’s good for the town,” he said.
School committee member and retired teacher Priscilla Sylvia was one of the few who had a chance to voice opposition to the plan. While she stressed she supported Little League — noting that her son played at Veira Park some 40 years ago — she said it was time to take a stand against the town playing host to so many Islandwide facilities.
“I love baseball, but I also love this town . . . I wonder if those who proposed this park have considered how much Oak Bluffs has already given, and allow the town to enjoy this park as it was originally intended — as an open park,” she said.
Selectman Roger Wey, who said he was speaking as a citizen and not an elected official, said opponents of the proposal should not be so parochial.
“There is tremendous growth in youth sports and they obviously need this space. I think it’s just natural to have two ball fields in one space . . . and remember the voters of this town supported this plan not once but twice at town meeting,” Mr. Wey said.
Vineyard Haven resident Phil Combra disputed the notion that Oak Bluffs unfairly shoulders too many Islandwide institutions.
“You keep talking about how Oak Bluffs has everything, but remember Vineyard Haven has two baseball fields and a soccer field, and we have very limited park lands,” he said.
Mr. Combra gave the commission an old photo of a Vineyard baseball team that included many young athletes who have since grown to adulthood, some of whom were in the audience. The appeal was evident as commissioners passed the old photo down the line, smiling and pointing when they recognized a face. “This game has a place in the Island’s history,” Mr. Combra said.
At this point Mrs. Brown turned the floor over to opponents of the plan, but warned they had only 20 minutes before the hearing would be continued.
Anne Brownell, executive director of the Norma G. Canner foundation for voice movement located across the street from the park, read a lengthy statement.
“The effect will be the loss of the few open spaces strung along Circuit avenue and converting a small neighborhood park into what essentially will be an all-Island facility crammed with trucks and cars. I truly do not believe that this little park, a breathing space in a busy place, is adequate for the proposed complex,” Ms. Brownell said.
The public hearing will be continued at the commission’s regular meeting on Oct. 18 at 7:30 p.m. in the Olde Stone Building on New York avenue.