Baseball funding squeaks past Oak Bluffs special
In a vote closer than a triple play, Oak Bluffs voted 89-80 Tuesday not to rescind town funding for a Vineyard Little League proposal to add another baseball field in Veira Park.
At the April annual town meeting, voters appropriated $200,000 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds for the project. The issue returned to voters following a campaign to put a request to rescind funding on the special town meeting warrant by park abutters who opposed the project.
A total of 202 registered voters turned out to take action on nine warrant articles. But it was the Veira Park vote that generated the most debate.
The Vineyard Little League plan includes the renovation of the existing ballfield in Veira Park and the construction of an second diamond.
Opponents had argued that the money allocated for the plan was an improper use of CPA funds because the legislation stipulates that CPA funds are to be used for the creation of new community spaces, but not for renovation.
During the debate, town counsel Ron Rappaport clarified the issue. Mr. Rappaport said the problem stems from the ambiguous meaning of the word "creation" in the act. It is unclear whether building a new field while rebuilding an abutting field in the same park constitutes creation of something new or renovation of an existing space, Mr. Rappaport explained. Because the act is new, no legal precedent exists to guide interpretation.
However, if the town voted to fund the project, Mr. Rappaport said he would defend the decision.
More than 20 Oak Bluffs voters joined the debate over the article to rescind the money.
"The definition of the word park includes open space," said one woman in favor of rescinding the plan. "I am in favor of the town supporting little league, and it serves the children well. However, the expansion proposed right now for Veira Park would not be workable... Right now it is a park that has accommodated little league. If this plan goes through, it will cease to be a mixed-use park.
Debbie Dean, a neighbor, argued that the plan does not fit into the park, citing measurements she made with a tape measure. Ms. Dean said the existing trees were irreplaceable because of their size and age.
Kathleen Nasser, a park abutter, said that speed bumps should be in place around the park now. Given current traffic, she said "It's unbelievable that these kids have not been hit. I cannot imagine another field going in."
Not all Veira Park neighbors opposed the project. Arthur Ben David, a park abutter, said he was satisfied with plans for the project.
Herb Combra said that the park had, in fact, a history of baseball of more than 100 years. Mr. Combra cited his uncle, baseball coach Tony Veira, the park's namesake and the originator of Vineyard Little League.
"I feel sorry for people who live around the park; I feel sorry for people who live around Niantic Park, they take a hit - they have people playing basketball all night and tennis going on all day. I live on Pennsylvania Avenue, and when I moved in 47 years ago there wasn't a septic station there; now there's a transfer station from Vineyard Haven... We all have to take a hit [as the Island develops]," Mr. Combra argued.
The ballfield plan will be reviewed by the Martha's Vineyard Commission as a development of regional impact. A date had not been set for the pre-public hearing as of Wednesday afternoon.
In other special town meeting business, following some debate and clarification, voters easily passed a motion to purchase a property off Pennsylvania Avenue, known as the Leonardo Property, for $1 million. Voters approved all other articles with no debate.
The meeting concluded with a standing ovation for fire chief Dennis P. Alley, who is retiring this year after 13 years as fire chief and 52 years with the department.