Ruckus rises over park plan
Oak Bluffs voters will be asked at a special town meeting Tuesday to rescind funding for a new Veira Park baseball field and other ballpark renovations. The project, sponsored by the Vineyard Little League, was approved at the April annual town meeting but has generated considerable opposition from neighbors.
A group of abutters and their supporters known as the Coalition to Save Veira Park have mounted a campaign to oppose the expanded use of the park and the expenditure of $200,000 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds.
The group gathered enough signatures to place the issue on the special town meeting warrant. This week, their efforts expanded to include political advertisements.
The special town meeting begins at 7 pm at the Oak Bluffs School.
The version endorsed by town voters on April 10 and since downscaled included a concession stand, a parking lot, and permanent restrooms. Faced with neighbors' concerns, Oak Bluffs selectmen referred the project to the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) as a development of regional impact. On Monday, the commission's land use planning committee will hold a pre-public hearing review of the project. Veira Park spans three acres, according to Oak Bluffs assessors' records.
Proposed improvements to Veira Park.
The plan, as described by Little League officials, includes the renovation of the existing baseball diamond and the construction of a second baseball field, with the addition of a picnic area, a wooden split-rail fence around the entire park, and a new parking layout. It is part of a larger effort to enhance sports fields across the Island
Off-street parking spaces will be available along Naushon Avenue and South Circuit Avenue, according to plans provided by Sam Berlow of Tisbury, president of Vineyard Little League. Mr. Berlow discussed the project in a telephone conversation with The Times on Monday.
Mr. Berlow said the new parking configuration would provide a safe distance from spectators and help alleviate the number of cars parked near neighboring houses and along the congested Canonicus Avenue.
Bathrooms, a concession stand, electronic scoreboards, public announcement systems and a paved parking area that were part of the earlier plan have been removed, he said. The existing field lights will be dismantled.
Although the plan will require the removal of some trees, as many as 30 new ones would be planted. "This project is designed to create a facility which will create a safe, fun and convenient atmosphere for families," Mr. Berlow wrote, in a Vineyard Little League planning memo.
Little League planners contend that a second baseball diamond in Veira Park would ease demand on other Island fields. Two diamonds would allow for all minor league (ages 7-9) and major league games (ages 10-12) to be played in one place, according to Mr. Berlow.
Major leagues currently play in Oak Bluffs, while minor leagues play in West Tisbury. An improved Veira Park is also expected to ease congestion on the West Tisbury softball field, which will in turn affect use of Veteran's Field in Tisbury.
"It's a domino effect," said Mr. Berlow. "This is really the first step in a multi-stage process that we're going through to fix the scheduling problems with baseball, softball, soccer, and lacrosse."
Consolidating the two diamonds in Veira Park will have the added benefit of allowing parents of two or more Little Leaguers to watch all their children's games at one park, Mr. Berlow added. It will also allow for two fields to be serviced by one irrigation system, storage shed, and portable restrooms.
Not so fast
The Coalition to Save Veira Park insists they are not opposed to a new baseball field, only to the use of town funds for a project they insist would adversely affect the neighborhood. Opponents maintain that funding would be improperly spent on the Veira Park plan.
"It is hard to comment on the plans because - from what we hear - they seem to change daily. All we can do is refer to the plans on file at the MVC as of last week," the Coalition said in statement transmitted to The Times by Gail Barmakian on Wednesday.
From the outset, the neighbors' chief concerns have been what they said would be an inevitable increase in traffic and noise that will result from a second field.
But the group is also concerned with the transformation of a popular open, public space that features large, old oak trees into a specialized venue that was never intended for baseball, the statement said.
The source of funding for the project has also spurred debate and is the primary subject of the Coalition's advertisements.
The April 10 Oak Bluffs town meeting allocated $200,000 from money available through the CPA. Passed in 2000, the legislation exists "to help communities preserve open space and historic sites, and create affordable housing and recreational facilities," according to the CPA web site.
The law matches town property tax surcharge money with state funds, for qualifying projects.
However, the legislation stipulates that the money can only be used to create new spaces, not for renovation. According to an ad placed by Coalition vice-chairperson Ann Donnelly Baird, extensions like those proposed by Vineyard Little League are considered renovations under the CPA and therefore cannot be funded in this manner.
Mr. Berlow said planners have raised approximately $100,000 in in-kind donations - such as labor and materials - for sprucing up the existing diamond without using CPA funds.