Baseball field not best use of Alegi property - Guest Column
I’m writing to clarify some facts about the recent Woodbridge Board of Selectmen vote on a baseball field on the Alegi-Hitchcock property on Pease Road.
Representatives of the Bethwood baseball league have created the false impression that the land in question was “given” to the town for the purposes of recreation. In fact, Woodbridge residents paid a hefty price for this land in 1997: $1.23 million. Land Trust conservation easements were placed on the land to protect it from certain kinds of development. Recreation and farming are both permitted uses, though there is no legal agreement that favors one over the other. Mr. Alegi’s long distance advocacy for a baseball field on the land is irrelevant: when he sold the land, he also gave up the right to determine how it would be used. The citizens of Woodbridge now own the land and, along with the Land Trust, own the right to make that decision.
The town of Woodbridge spent $300,000 to purchase development rights on a portion of the Hitchcock farm now owned by the Santoro family. The purpose of this transaction was to preserve the historic farm house, and to encourage the property’s continued use as a farm. It’s hard to understand why the town would undercut that large investment in farming by allowing a baseball diamond to be built right next door, essentially preventing the full use of the property as a farm. This farm would benefit many town residents, since the Santoros plan to raise beef, chickens, and vegetables which would be available for sale. The success of the Massaro Farm has certainly shown a large demand for fresh, local food in Woodbridge.
The baseball league has been presented with several viable alternatives to building on prime farmland, which they reject for nonsensical reasons. One league member told a local newspaper that adding lights to the high school field would be more expensive than building a new field. Is that credible? I don’t think so. Quick research online puts the cost of lighting a field at around $100,000 (just 20 percent of the estimates to build a new field).
There is also a 90’ baseball diamond at the Amity Middle School. Team practice there ends at 4:30 p.m. There are many days when the middle school team has away games and lots of time on the weekends when the field is empty. Let alone the months of June, July and August when school is not in session. Bethwood softball uses the middle school softball field … couldn’t Bethwood baseball use the middle school baseball field as well?
The West River complex was originally built with a 90’ diamond, which remained for over 30 years. In fact, the varsity team played there before the Amity High School campus was built. Why couldn’t one of the 60’ fields at West River be converted back to a 90’ field, its original configuration? I don’t believe the Bethwood league’s claim that a 90’ diamond won’t fit at West River.
Finally, I would like to address one league member’s claim that “5 or 6 teams of 12 to 15 players each” would use a new field. Even if that number is accurate (and I would question it), it includes many players from Orange and Bethany. Orange and Bethany already have 90’ baseball diamonds. The relevant question is how many WOODBRIDGE residents are in this program. I have repeatedly asked this question, but baseball league leaders have flatly refused to supply the facts. Three people with close knowledge of the program have told me privately that the number is extremely small, about a dozen boys per year. And town demographics indicate a declining number of boys reaching the appropriate age for this league - enrollment at Beecher Road School has decreased 30 percent in the last 10 years. So participation in Bethwood baseball is likely to decline further.
Why, when there are so many viable alternatives, would the town of Woodbridge consider bulldozing prime farmland - a scarce, valuable resource - for a new baseball field that we do not need? A field that would only serve about a dozen town residents per year? This decision ignores the overall interests of the town and the wishes of most Woodbridge residents. It just placates a very small, but very vocal, minority group.
Cathy Wick is a resident of Woodbridge.