Residents Respond as New Flint Park Proposal Detailed
by Judy Silberstein
(January 11, 2007) A draft design for adding an artificial turf field at Flint Park got its first public airing at the Larchmont Village Board on Monday, January 8. Residents overflowed the courtroom and more than a dozen speakers, many of them park neighbors from Locust Avenue, asked questions, expressed concerns or voiced support for the proposal. Though the back and forth between resident questions or criticisms and board responses or defenses clarified a number of issues, there was some dissatisfaction with the process and some wondering if the plan were a “fait accompli.”
“That’s just not fair!” responded Mayor Liz Feld, who stressed the draft nature of the plan. To make time for more public comment, she set back the next public board meeting (now on January 29) to make room for two work sessions open to interested parties. Also, by Wednesday afternoon, the mayor said plans were being revised based on what the board had heard.
Anthony Catalano, an engineer with Woodard and Curran consultants, presented a draft proposal which called for replacing three tennis courts and an open area next to the American Legion Hall with an artificial turf field. The irregularly shaped field would accommodate varsity lacrosse and soccer or little league baseball. The full-sized soccer and baseball fields still being planned for the eastern (or “back”) edge of the park would get better drainage and be slightly repositioned so soccer fencing would intrude less on the abutting conservation area. The roadway between the artificial and natural turf fields would be contoured and landscaped to improve aesthetics, parking and circulation. Pedestrian walkways and new trees would be added throughout the park.
Mr. Catalano recognized that trees now separating Flint Park and the back of the Hommocks would have to come down, but said they were in “extremely poor condition” and the plan represented an opportunity to replace them.
$$ - Ballpark Figures
Asked for a “ballpark figure,” Mr. Catalano estimated roughly $1.5 million for upgrading the grass field and conservation area and $1.8 to $2 million for the artificial turf and related improvements.
Funds for the latter project could come from Westchester’s Legacy program. To qualify, Mayor Feld later said she is working to get county credit for maintaining or expanding affordable rental housing. Larchmont is not open to assuming the County’s responsibility for maintaining Palmer Avenue, another possible “quid pro quo.”
Town of Mamaroneck as Partner
Cooperation from the Town Board is critical to development of the artificial turf field, whose completion requires a sliver of land falling on Town property that abuts Flint Park. Town backing is also essential as Larchmont applies for Legacy funds. Supervisor Valerie O’Keeffe attended the presentation and indicated her board was supporting the Legacy application and would be willing to enter into an intermunicipal agreement so Larchmont could lease the land it needs. In response to concerns about the project’s impact, she said both the intermunicipal agreement and Westchester funding would be contingent on final plans passing environmental reviews.
Parking & Traffic: Biggest Concerns of Locust Avenue Neighbors
“Building fields is one thing, adding parking spaces is another,” said Dr. Mark Abramowicz. “There is going to be more traffic with more parking,” concurred Lisa Ahmad, who also saw a safety issue as children darted back and forth between diagonal parking proposed for both sides of the road separating the new artificial and grass fields. “This is a grave concern,” she stressed.
Trustee Mike Wiener recalled that the Traffic Commission had rejected an earlier plan for diagonal parking and questioned whether large trucks hauling leaves to be composted would be able to pass.
Trustee Jim Millstein noted that cars already park haphazardly – and illegally – on both sides. The plans would just organize and legalize parking on the road and in the American Legion lot.
By Wednesday, though, Mayor Feld said, “What we heard is parking along the road is problematic, so we’re looking for another location – even to getting rid of it altogether.” She was also working on moving the leaf composting spot at the back of the park, which would further open access to the waterfront.
Even without the new field, traffic on Locust Avenue as it enters Flint Park is burdensome and unsafe, argued residents. They proposed solutions, including: lowering the speed limit to 15 miles per hour; restricting parking to one side of the street; adding a sidewalk, low speed bumps and/or another stop sign (at Bronson Avenue). Relief through the Traffic Commission has not been forthcoming so far, but Trustee Marlene Kolbert suggested neighbors first agree on which side of the street will give up parking before returning to the Commission.
What About The Feral Cats Now Living Behind The Tennis Courts?
“I have a wonderful spot picked out for the cats – it’s lovely and safe,” reported Kim Rosenthal, a veterinarian and “point person” for the volunteers who care for the colony of around 60 cats. The alternate site, on Mamaroneck Town property in the tall grasses behind the Hommocks sports field, already attracts cats, which have eliminated rats that once roamed the park, said Dr. Rosenthal. Town Supervisor Valerie O’Keeffe said she’d “take that under consideration.”
Adding Fields, Cutting Open Space and Tennis Courts?
Some speakers questioned the balance between organized field sports (for ever-younger athletes) and other park amenities. Eleanor Davidson, a 36-year resident of Locust Avenue, recalled a time when there were “turtles, frogs, arrowheads, Frisbees – all that is gone.” She questioned removal of three tennis courts (leaving only six older ones) and was skeptical of studies showing it is rare for more than 6 courts to be signed out at the same time.
Trustee Kolbert acknowledged that the older courts would need resurfacing; those costs are being considered in the budget. Mayor Feld pointed to Larchmont’s many passive parks: Willow, Kane, Constitution, Addison and Manor Park. “ Flint is the primary facility for organized sports,” she said, but Frisbee, basketball, picnicking, concerts – “not one of those activities will be compromised by this plan.” Bari Suman, athletic director for Mamaroneck Schools, confirmed that she had been working with Larchmont’s recreations director, Joyce Callahan, to ensure sufficient courts across the tri-municipality for both recreational and varsity tennis programs.
A High Fence?
There were concerns voiced at this (and earlier) meetings about the aesthetics and inflexibility of fencing to enclose the artificial turf field. “A fence is a reality” stressed Trustee Kolbert. “Running a baby carriage across the field would ruin it.” Fences already surround the tennis courts now occupying half the space, said Trustee Millstein. But a ten-foot fence? questioned Trustee Anne McAndrews.
Mr. Catalano suggested use of 4-foot fencing with corner posts to support higher nets when games are being played. Landscaping to hide the fencing is part of the plan.
Support for the Fields
Ms. Suman was among those lauding the proposal. The artificial turf field “will look better on any given day,” especially when compared to the natural fields that now resemble “a chia pet with no hair,” she said. Ruedi Laager thought the park now resembled brown potato fields and said a “big percentage” of girls are involved in soccer: “The need is here, the games are being played.” Kerry Stein called the plan a “legacy to the entire community.” He sympathized with traffic concerns but said “traffic was bad all over” and one field would have little impact. Dave Fishman, vice-president of baseball for the local Little League, was disappointed to hear denigration of starting sports at a young age. He called team sports a “buffer” against the “twin scourges of youth obesity and drug use.”
Open Process? More Work Sessions & Postponed Board Meeting
The most heated criticism was from Mike Zupon, of the Flint Park Conservancy, who voiced frustration with the process and reiterated concerns expressed at December’s board meeting. (See: Residents Weigh in on Adding "Legacy" Field at Flint Park.) “You need to listen and not just give answers to all the questions being raised,” he said. He felt the plan “is being presented initially as a fait accompli.” He called for stepping back and reconstituting the committees that had worked for years on plans for the grass fields and conservation area.
Village Board members objected strenuously to Mr. Zupon’s characterizations. The project – and the speed of its planning – were in response to the County Legacy funds, which Larchmont has a “very good chance of getting,” said Trustee Kolbert. “We have this opportunity and we need to seize it,” she added.
The “drop dead deadline” is February, said Trustee Millstein. He noted the numerous emails and telephone communications between the Village Board and the Conservancy and said Mr. Zupon and others had been invited to the last work session and to another one scheduled for mid-January. Further, Mr. Zupon was mistaken in his belief that the board would be voting on the plan that evening.
Mr. Zupon stepped back. “You’ve been responsive,” he conceded, “what we need to know is that you’re open to amending the plans.
Catherine Kortlandt, president of the Larchmont Conservancy suggested making the January 18 meeting a work session with all the groups from the earlier project. Mayor Feld moved to slot in an extra work session (see Other Board News) and to postpone the board’s next public meeting for January 29.