P&Z Watch: Bobby Valentine is Surprise Guest in Saga of Illegal Baseball Field

During Tuesday’s P&Z meeting the owner of a baseball field at 56 Clapboard Ridge Road sought a special permit under 6-94 after receiving two violations from the town zoning enforcement officer.

Several advocates of youth baseball who know the applicant, Ray Bartoszek, testified with their support, including former American professional baseball player and manager, Bobby Valentine.

At the last public hearing on the ball field, the commission left the item open and asked Mr. Bartoszek to try to come to an agreement with his neighbors.

Ray Bartoszek testified at the P&Z meeting Zoom on July 14, 2020.

Mr. Bartoszek gave a timeline since the previous meeting.

“When we last met on June 2 you asked that the coalition of neighbors and I work out a compromise. I have made every effort to do so, but we’ve been unable to reach an accord mainly due to the fact my neighbors have been unresponsive and unreasonable.”

He said the day after the hearing, he wrote to the neighbors offering a compromise in which he would eliminate their complaints about traffic, safety, noise and fertilizer runoff into the lake.

On June 9 he received a response from Art Sanders who confirmed receipt of the letter on behalf of the neighbors.

On June 11, Bartoszek said Mr. Sanders called to say he was removing himself from the coalition because he thought the neighbors were being unreasonable.

Bartoszek said by June 29 he still had not heard from the neighbors but in “a good faith effort” he installed 45 evergreen trees as screening of his neighbors, despite his attorney John Heagney advising him not to.

On July 1 he reached out to the neighbors again and offered to meet face to face.

On July 3 he received a response and on the same day responded with compromises to their demands, some of which he said were new.

On July 4, Bartoszek said, “One neighbor of the 8 in the coalition against me met me face to face at my home. It was nice to meet Mr. JT Coe for the first time. We thought we had up to 90% of this situation agreed, but we couldn’t get an agreement over the finish line.”

“The coalition followed up on about July 9 with a response to me stating their new demands and said they’d rather go to the board (P&Z commission) to arbitrate than to speak to me to discuss a potential compromise,” he said.

Bartoszek said the neighbors requested that if a special permit under 6-94 were issued, that it expire on Sept 30, 2021 and be non-transferable to a third party if 56 Clapboard Ridge were to be sold.

Bartoszek said he would agree to the caveat on transfer of property, but that point is moot because special permits are attached to a property.

He said would not agree to a 15 month time limit.

A second unresolved complaint involves the use of aluminum bats, which Bartoszek agreed to to use at any practices on the field.

“Going from aluminum to wood would change the entire ping experience to nothing, and take care of any noise issues except for the sound of children, and should put that to rest,” he said, adding, “The coalition came back and asked that there never be use of an aluminum bat on the property. I’m not willing to do that. …If I’m outside with my 3-year old son and he can only swing an aluminum bat because it’s lighter, I’m not going to be looking over my shoulder…”

He said despite his planting 45 evergreens, the neighbors’ latest request was for him to screen the lake.

Attorney John Heagney Ray Bartoszek testified at the P&Z meeting Zoom on July 14, 2020.

Attorney Heagney said doing so would require a Wetlands permit, and that Wetlands had heavily vetted the property when it was redeveloped in 2017, including impacts to the lake.

Heagney said Wetlands staff are reluctant to permit plantings along a lake or watercourse unless unless they are for the purpose of restoring a canopy or for ecological purposes.

Bartoszek said the fourth demand from neighbors concerned removing signage from his property including the CT State Championship 2019 banner from his outfield fence.

“I certainly will listen to you, but I’m not going to listen to the neighbors who are asking me to remove that very sentimental sign,” he said.

Another unresolved point he had agreed to when he met with Mr. Coe on July 9 concerned regading Mr. Coe’s property across the street.

“He said that trucks that were building my house caused de-leveling of the street area. I was happy to accommodate such a small, petty request until yesterday when his wife harassed my workers and screamed across the street, ‘What are you doing at that stupid house now?'”

Bartoszek said he had yet to hear a response, but was no longer willing to re-grade the Coe’s property unless the commission required it.

Another item unresolved involved the neighbors’ complaint that the applicant spends too much time on maintenance of the ballfield and requested that maintenance be limited to one day a week.

As for the complaint about usage, in his June 3 letter of compromise Bartoszek said he offered to limit practices to four times a week.

“The response from the coalition was to request two practices, no weekends, and to end practices by 5:00pm. My response, I think very reasonable, was during the school year – April, May, June – I can’t end practices by 5:00pm because kids can’t get to my house til 4:30pm. I’d like to compromise to stay within the noise ordinance, which I believe is 6:00pm. …I suggested Saturdays, but not Sundays, but we never got back and forth to negotiate that to an agreement because their letter said they didn’t want to talk to me anymore.”

Bartoszek said even though he had offered to compromise and limit practices to three times a week, he changed his mind about that, and would instead defer to the P&Z commission.

Ms Alban recommended the commission review the application under special permit standards and set the conditions.

She noted that the criteria was whether the use is compatible with surrounding uses, and whether it adversely impacts traffic and safety in the streets.

Alban said the noise ordinance is not under P&Z control, but the regulations are, “to provide for public health, comfort, general welfare…”

Commissioner Dave Hardman suggested the applicant go back and try again to work with neighbors. “I don’t think we should be the arbitrator,” he said.

Peter Lowe suggested the neighbors and Mr. Bartoszek each hire legal representation for “a de-escalation through third parties.”

During public hearing JT Coe read a statement on behalf of the immediate neighbors, saying they sought a denial of the application.

“While the neighbors appreciate the value of children’s sports, we do not agree with the concept of permanent, organized team sports in a residential area. In an attempt to be good neighbors and due to the changes brought on by Covid, we’re going to agree to a temporary use to allow team practices to continue, but we do not agree with the highly unusual request to allow team sports. Nor do we think the Town of Greenwich would benefit.”

JT Coe statement from neighbors

Mr. Coe said the Sept 2021 sunset clause was central to the neighbors’ offer.

“We are far apart at this point,” he said.

Neighbor Victoria Melly said, “We are a neighborhood, not a coalition.”

She said Mr. Bartoszek had previously talked about the special permit expiring when his son aged out of the Cal Ripken under 12 program.

“We based our negotiation upon this,” she said. “Now what I learn tonight is in fact he really wants nine more years because he has a three year old who wants the same use.”

Belinda Badcock said the enjoyment and value of neighbors’ properties had been impacted.

“We’re not the bad guys here,” she said, describing the application process as “backwards” because the ballfield was already in use when a violation from the zoning enforcement officer was issued, followed by a second violation.

James Ritman, who is not a neighbor, but is a coach in town and has friends whose children are on the team, said he was speaking on behalf of coaches.

“Over 60% of practices have been at the coaches’ houses with kids on the teams,” he said, adding that that spoke to the larger issue of lack of fields in town.

“This is going on in the town at a very large level all of the time. To say you can’t do that would almost shut down team sports,” he said. “These gentlemen, these coaches, deserve praise for what they’ve done for this town, for the kids on the team, for providing a field…”

George Holdefehr agreed. “Let the children play. This is a safe environment,” he said.

“If we’re going to nitpick about children playing in a yard during daylight hours, as opposed to parties at night, fireworks, animals, it’s bad for Greenwich and bad for America,” he said. “If we’re going to become Orwellian in the way we manage our town, it’s very scary.”

“It’s about wholesome fun and there’s plenty of parking,” said Maxwell Vanderslice. “

Bobby Valentine described himself as a bystander, friend of Mr. Bartozek, executive director of athletics at Sacred Heart University, and owner of a sports academy.

“Probably the two greatest problems we have in our community – from Darien through Greenwich – is, a, the lack of facilities and, b, the lack of coaches,” Valentine said. “This application seems to check both those boxes.”

“In the environment we’re living in right now, it would be almost sinful if this team, and this group, and those who follow them, wouldn’t be allowed to have a safe, well-coached environment where they can excel… and I really hope the neighbors are not intruded on in any way at all,” Valentine added.

At the end of the hearing, the item was left open. The commission will take two weeks to mull over whether to deny the application or accept it with conditions.

Residents are invited to submit emails to Katie DeLuca P&Z director at [email protected]

“I do believe we have a permitted use in the zone,” Heagney said in closing, adding that many conditions had been agreed to by Mr. Bartozek to address neighbors’ concerns. “My client made a good faith offer to limited practices back on June 3.”

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