What seemed like a simple, homespun plan to improve and expand the baseball field at Veira Park in Oak Bluffs has evolved into an acrimonious bureaucratic tangle pitting a group of Little Leaguers against a group of neighbors worried about noise and traffic.
Voters at the annual town meeting in April agreed to allocate $200,000 in Community Preservation Act funds to the Vineyard Baseball group to renovate and expand the Little League facilities at Veira Park. The plan included the creation of a second playing field, dugouts, a concession stand and a parking lot for 40 cars.
Now, less than three months later, the plan will return to a special town meeting later this month when voters will consider an article to rescind the $200,000 in community funds for the project. If the article is approved, the plan to improve the park will be put on hold indefinitely.
Selectmen last week agreed to put the request to rescind the funding on the June 26 special town meeting warrant after a group of neighbors circulated a petition that netted over 100 signatures.
Meanwhile, Naushon avenue resident Gail Barmakian has sent a letter to the state Department of Revenue questioning whether the use of CPA funds to create a new recreation field on land owned by the town is appropriate.
Neighbors say adding a second baseball diamond will diminish their quality of life and create additional problems with parking, noise and traffic in a congested corner of town.
The same group of neighbors argues that the plan as presented at town meeting in April was misleading and maintain they were never given a proper forum to air their concerns when the plans were first introduced last fall.
Earlier this week, two Veira Park abutters - South Circuit avenue resident Ann Baird and Naushon avenue resident Kathleen Nasser - surveyed the field in front of their homes and wondered aloud where a second diamond would fit.
"We're not talking about a lot of space here, it's pretty cramped as it is," Mrs. Baird said.
"I can't even imagine where they are going to fit this - and they're talking about adding parking spots and grandstands, where exactly is this going to fit?" Mrs. Nasser added.
Mrs. Nasser said she has no problem with one baseball diamond at Veira Park. She and her husband often sit on the front porch and watch the games and even cheer the players on, she said. But a second diamond would double the traffic and create a parking nightmare, she said, and would almost certainly create additional noise that would prevent people from enjoying the peace and quiet of their homes.
"Let me make this clear, we are not against baseball. We agree there is a need for additional playing fields, but we question whether it has to be right here in the middle of our neighborhood." she said.
Mrs. Baird also said she had no problem with a single baseball diamond in Veira Park, but is worried about the safety of the children if two games were played at once.
"All you have to do is stand there and watch the cars whiz around the corner at the end of Circuit avenue. Those drivers come around that corner and have no idea there are kids playing at the park - and now we're talking about doubling the number of kids and doubling the amount of traffic? It makes me very worried," Mrs. Baird said.
Proponents of the baseball park say the neighbors' concerns are unfounded and they maintain the improvements to the park will actually enhance safety, reduce the amount of time the fields are in use and create a more aesthetically pleasing ball field.
Sam Berlow, president of Vineyard Baseball, said playing two games at the same time means games will end earlier in the evening. He said a new parking configuration will also allow drivers to better see players and spectators during games.
"What you have now is a situation where motorists can't see the kids along the sidelines because of all the cars parked on the side of the field. There is a real potential for an accident; and it's something that needs to be addressed," Mr. Berlow said.
He also disputed the notion that residents were not made aware of the plans for the park or that neighbors' concerns have fallen on deaf ears. He said the plans have already been scaled back and no longer include bathrooms or an electronic scoreboard.
He said residents have had a chance to comment on the plans at every stage, including a park and recreation meeting last month, which was attended by several neighbors.
"I think a small group of citizens who doesn't want this in their front yard is spreading misinformation about this project," he said.
Mr. Berlow dismissed the notion that Oak Bluffs is being asked to unfairly shoulder the burden of all Little League games; noting that T-ball games and adult baseball games are played in other towns. He also said this brand of extreme parochialism does not work in a small Island community like the Vineyard.
"I just don't understand this idea that we should close our doors to the other towns - we're talking about kids playing baseball here, remember," he said.
The baseball park project has also created a paper trail at the state level and been the subject of numerous legal opinions.
After Ms. Barmakian sent a letter to the Department of Revenue earlier this year asking about the use of CPA funds for the park, she received a packet of information, including a legal opinion from Kathleen Colleary, the chief of the Bureau of Municipal Finance Law of the Division of Local Services, and Gary Blau, tax counsel for the Bureau of Municipal Finance Law.
In an e-mail, Ms. Colleary stated that CPA funds can be used to create a new recreational use on municipal land, but cannot be used to replace or install equipment, amenities or improvements to an existing property. In another e-mail, Mr. Blau said the question would be better answered by town counsel.
Mr. Berlow said plans to install equipment or amenities have been taken out of the plan.
Meanwhile, the town community preservation committee stands behind its decision to recommend the use of the funds for the ball park project. In a letter sent to the Oak Bluffs selectmen this week, committee chairman Stephen Durkee recounted the detailed process that led to the committee's recommendation this spring, including careful deliberation in posted public meetings and consultation with town counsel.
"To date the committee has not heard from the Attorney General's office or the department of revenue on the inappropriateness of any of the projects voted for at town meeting. In addition, I met with [town administrator] Michael Dutton and [assistant town counsel] Michael Goldsmith and was told that town counsel had reviewed the ball park rehabilitation and expansion and found it to be appropriate in the language of recreational proposals," Mr. Durkee wrote.