It wasn’t until about an hour after the Planning & Zoning commissioners went back and forth with attorney John Heagney over his client’s illegal baseball field at 56 Clapboard Ridge Road that the applicant, Ray Bartoszek, spoke during the Zoom meeting Tuesday night.
“I want to say first of all I did not build this field with any intention to cause anybody any harm, whether it’s because they can’t have coffee on their patio or ping of bat or potential safety violations because of traffic,” Mr. Bartoszek said. “I am a rule follower. I’m a military academy graduate. I believe in rules and guidelines.”
Bartoszek said none of his neighbors had ever confronted him and that there were no umpires and no games played on his field – just practices for his son’s Cal Ripken U10 team, for which he and three other fathers are unpaid coaches.
The application came before the P&Z commission because Mr. Bartoszek created the baseball field including backstop, bleachers, moveable 4 ft high mesh fence and gravel parking area for parents without permission from the town and neighbors complained.
Bartoszek was cited by the Zoning Enforcement Officer and received a violation.
Mr. Bartoszek said he hired Diamond Landscapes and Athletic Fields to tend the field, and after parents were parking on Clapboard Ridge Rd, he added a gravel parking area for them.
Neighbors complained the practices were daily from 4:00-6:00pm in season, which coincided with them trying to enjoy their yards and patios. They said they heard loud and constant pings of aluminum bats and that cars parked on Clapboard Ridge Rd caused an unsafe traffic issue.
Friends of Mr. Bartoszek said other town residents have tennis courts, putting greens, basketball courts and hockey rinks, and suggested the commission scrutinize those.
“Yes,” Ms Alban said, “We rely on neighbors to tell us when a use has become egregious to them and is no longer consistent to the residential use to which it was intended…But the intent is to not have organized sports activities. Sure, you can have 9 kids over for a pool party, but you can’t have a water polo team that practices regularly at your pool. That’s the distinction we’re making.”
“This is exactly why we have special permits,” commissioner Andy Fox said. “If you were a school, which is allowed in a residential neighborhood, that has playing fields, they come before us with a special permit application. By having a special permit application we can set the standards about how that field will operate. Under this scenario though, there are no rules that we can enforce for the neighborhood.”
“There needs to be some rules and guidelines,” Fox said.
Mr. Martone said his son was on the Mr. Bartoszek’s Cal Ripken team and it was an amazing experience. He said many families of the players bonded and became friends. He said the experience was incredible and paid off not only in friendships but the team advanced to the regional championships.
“I can’t even imagine they’re not going to be able to go back to that field as 11-year-olds,” he said.
Ms. Alban offered an analogy.
“We had a church use that was in violation of the regulation,” Alban said. “It was imposing on neighbors, and clearly not in compliance in the residential zone. And the response was that they were doing God’s work. This is a little bit of that. The fact that something is a wonderful, fun filled activity that creates strong bonds, doesn’t make it okay for neighbors and doesn’t make it okay to preserve the Greenwich that people move it. …Their argument was they can break the rules because, ‘It’s God’s work.'”
Attorney Heagney said the team uses the field 3-4 days a week for 2 hours between 4:00-6:00pm and possibly during the day when school is out for summer, plus a half dozen times for batting practices before weekend travel.
Heagney added, “I’d like to note that all the activities occur within the same hours you can use a leaf blower under the town’s ordinances.”
“That might have been the line of the year,” Alban said.
“We’re not playing baseball in the middle of the night, it’s during the day when the noise ordinance is in effect,” Heagney said.
Mr. Heagney explained that despite hanging the team’s winning banners by the field last year, the field has no affiliation with Cal Ripkin league.
“They don’t hold any games here,” Heagney continued. “Their outfield dimensions are insufficient even if they wanted to do so. Cal Ripkin is run nationwide. They wouldn’t run the league on private property.”
Commissioner Nick Macri asked Heagney if all the members of the Bartoszek family were on the team?
“No,” Heagney said.
“Is there organized team practice at the site?” Macri asked.
“Yes,” Heagney said.
After a joke about a team of leafblowers, Macri said, “We’ve taken a step far away from this being used for family and friends, and more like it’s for an organized team. It would seem to me – 10 and under – it’s organized and of course everyone is a friend, but this is not just a bunch of kids getting together to play wiffleball, but a facility to train and practice for an organized event.”
“I’m very sorry hear there aren’t enough publicly available fields in town,” Alban said. “But that’s not enough to have team events on private property. You know that as well as we do.”
“If they want to apply under 6-94 for club use they can do that. I’ve looked at every facility in the past 20 years we’ve approved. They’re all severely restricted by the conditions to remain private. Only for family without a regular, team competitive event occurring there. I grant you that your disturbance might not be at night, but it’s not in keeping with regulations for residential zones,” Alban said.
Mr. Fox said the minute a coach is involved, team practices turn from a family event to a supervised event. “All we’re saying is no coach, and it’s a family event,” Fox said.
“I don’t know why the applicant is so insistent on trying to fit this square peg in a round hole,” Commissioner Peter Levy said. “But if you go there and play team baseball, I think that’s a tough argument you’re trying to make.”
“One of the issues I’m talking about is how the commission is framing this use as a team activity that all of a sudden takes place because they are wearing uniforms and taking photos,” Heagney asked. “What exactly are we in violation of?”
“I’m going to stop you,” Alban said. “It’s to do with what’s allowed in the residential zone. He (Mr. Heagney) is arguing this is a purely family use, not a 6-94 use,” Alban said.
Several fathers from the Cal Ripken team defended Mr. Bartoszek and the field, but an equal number of neighbors spoke against it.
“These are not merely drop-off play dates or parties,” said John Coe who has lived across the street on Clapboard Ridge Rd almost 20 years.
Mr. Coe complained about increased noise and traffic and cars parked along the street.
He also said neighbors can hear continual noise associated with practice and games, including neighbors across the pond because sound travels easily over water. He said they are also disturbed by the comings and goings of contractors.
“The extent the applicant wants to continue, we’re willing to undertake discussion under a set of circumstances, but it sounds like it needs to be retooled,” Coe said.
“Shame on Mr. Coe,” said Mr. Longhorne, who said he was a friend of Mr. Bartoszek and whose son plays on the Cal Ripken team.
“Everyone who goes there is a friend of the applicant. I’ve been there numerous times. Most of the time there are 3 or 4 cars, and no more than 60 to 75 cracks of the bat, which must be devastatingly annoying.”
“Are we really trying to prevent a bunch of 9 and 10 year old boys from playing baseball in a back yard? … Someone has to stand up for the children in this town,” said Mr. Longhorne. “Ms Alban, I appreciate the rules and regulations, but you get 5 or 6 cars on the road and it’s not organized, there’s no umpire, and the applicant is the coach? Can someone explain to my kid why he can’t play baseball at Mr. Bartoszek’s house because the neighbor doesn’t like the sound of the bat? This thing is a total waste of time when you still haven’t changed the residency permit for Greenwich High School and you can’t even build a shed there, and we’re buggering around about a tiny little baseball field?”
They’re not sitting inside. They’re not in front of a TV or iPad. They’re getting social skills. There’s no games, no umpires. It’s young kids learning the skills of baseball. I think it’s amazing we can have a field of dreams here in Greenwich and to extend that joy. – George Holdefehr
“We live across the pond and hear the noise all the time,” said Victoria Melly. “It is joyous to hear children playing in a back yard. But here was a lot of people, and a lot of traffic and noise. We’re here because there was a violation.”
Paul Ghaffari, who lives across the street, said he did not believe an organized public league was appropriate for the neighborhood.
“That is not the spirit of the regulation,” Ghaffari said. “I’ve looked at the code and my reading is that it’s not allowable. These activities belong on the town’s parks and ball fields. Many private schools make their ball fields available. One gentleman referred to just a few cars. We see cars arrive, and they can’t all fit and they park on the road. Clapboard Ridge Rd is a very busy road. We’re talking about near daily use. This is being used for practices in spring and summer, nearly every day. There are many consequences of having this used as a public use facility.”
George Holdefehr, another team parent said with so many worries about kids involved in drugs or violence, it was important to get kids together on a field and noted there is a shortage of fields in Greenwich.
“They’re not sitting inside. They’re not in front of a TV or iPad. They’re getting social skills. There’s no games, no umpires. It’s young kids learning the skills of baseball. I think it’s amazing we can have a field of dreams here in Greenwich and to extend that joy.”
“Is the applicant open to applying for such a special permit?” Commissioner Petr Lowe asked.
“Yes sir I am. I thought that’s what we were doing here tonight,” Mr. Bartoszek said.
“Either way you go, we have to make a decision,” Ms Alban said. “A special permit is a use that would be permitted and is allowed by regulations, but requires the extra level of scrutiny because of the impact it could have on the neighborhood. The wisest way is to make sure the community is not opposed to it.”
“I can write the application with my neighbors,” Mr. Bartoszek offered.
“You have to decide whether you come in as a 6-94 or do it as ‘family and friends,’ and reduce the scope,” Alban suggested. “A special permit is a use that would be permitted and is allowed by regs but requires an extra level of scrutiny because of the impact it could have on the neighborhood. The wisest way is to make sure the community is not opposed to it.”
“We’re happy to meet with the neighbors and discuss their concerns,” Mr. Heagney said.
“Time is of the essence and it looks like you’ll be meeting the neighbors via Zoom,” Mr. Fox said.
The item was left open. Stay tuned.
June 2, 2020
July 18, 2019