NORTHBOROUGH, Mass. — After hearing both sides make their case on a proposal to convert the Indian Meadows Golf Course into a youth baseball facility, the Northborough Zoning Board of Appeals decided Monday night to continue the public hearing to Sept. 4.
New England Baseball Enterprises LLC, which runs the New England Ruffnecks baseball program for 13- to 18-year-olds, is seeking to purchase the course for $1.9 million. The course is predominantly located in Northborough, though its entrance is in Westborough. New England Baseball’s plan calls for the construction of four diamonds, along with a concession stand and restroom facility.
Such a change requires a special permit from the ZBA. Representatives for the applicant sought to prove that this new use of the land would not hurt the abutters’ current quality of life.
Mark Donahue, attorney for New England Baseball, explained some of the concessions it had made. A time limit has been proposed that would end all activity by 10 p.m. In the summer and 9 p.m. when school is in session. Additionally, in a July 26 letter to the ZBA, Donahue suggested ending play on the two fields closest to nearby homes at 8 p.m. each night.
Patrick Macguire, president of Activitas, the company that designed the facility, said asymmetrical light poles would focus more light to the ground and less toward the sky and nearby homes. "We want to, as best we can, direct the light and the money it takes to light the fields onto the fields themselves," he said. New England Baseball plans to plant a buffer of evergreen trees along the property line that would obscure the view of the fields from the neighborhood, he said.
Finally, Macguire assured residents that they had nothing to fear from incoming baseballs.
"If a baseball hits your home, grab that ball and get it signed, because you've got an all-star on your hands." he said. "There are a lot of Major League Baseball players who cannot hit 430 feet." Golf balls were more likely to hit homes than baseballs, he said.
Brion Koning of Cavanaugh Tocci Associates Inc. told residents that a recent sound study showed that noise levels from the facility are not expected to differ much from levels that the neighborhood regularly experiences. He compared sounds from a "half-dozen" diamonds in the MetroWest area to a baseline measurement taken at Indian Meadows and found that they both fall from 40 to 50 decibels on average.
In response, residents from Indian Meadow Drive delivered their own presentation, in which they disputed many of New England Baseball’s findings and urged the ZBA to deny the special permit.
Nighttime use of the diamonds would be "unprecedented" in town, Tom Racca said. Saying that Indian Meadow Drive has no streetlights and displaying pictures of how dark it gets at night, he warned that glare from the light poles would ruin the neighbor’s character.
Kevin O'Connell, an engineer, did his own sound study that disagreed with Koning’s. Taking measurements at a recent game the Ruffnecks hosted at Assumption College, he found that they measured about 3 to 17 decibels higher than measurements taken at Indian Meadows. "The big takeaway is, over an hour, we noticed baseball activity induced a greater acoustical noise than golf," he said.
"We love baseball," Racca said. "That's not the issue. We believe there are places for this. We just think that's not the right site for this."
Though the ZBA will continue to hear this debate, it remains unclear whether New England Baseball will be allowed to make a deal. The golf course took advantage of a recreational land tax break for several years, so the town is legally allowed the "right of first refusal" under Chapter 61B of Massachusetts General Law and may purchase the land before anyone else. That process, however, has been delayed, as the town has not yet received a formal price for the Northborough land, according to Town Planner Kathy Joubert.