2014-11-20 / Opinion

New Council Needs to Take Hard Look at Complex

To the Editor:

Newport This Week’s article “Sports Complex Plan Downsized” (Oct. 30) about bulldozing Middletown’s 62-acre Boulevard-Tibbitts farmland and open space into athletic fields needs clarification.

The article states that the development is being scaled back. It is not. The Recreational Facilities Master Plan Advisory Group is still presenting the full plan to the Town Council to build four baseball fields and six lacrosse (multiuse) fields totaling about $10 million, and a 50,000-square foot field house at an additional cost. They are simply proposing to develop it in phases, the first costing taxpayers about $3 million.

Phase one actually calls for one baseball and four lacrosse fields. Lacrosse fields are roughly the size of football fields, so phase one would mean developing more than half the available land, not a small test to see how use, maintenance, traffic and other issues work out.

Of much greater concern, the plan does not even raise the basic questions that must be answered before any more taxpayer money is spent ($180,000 has gone into the plan so far) and before precious open space and farmland are sacrificed:

Is there a real need?

Are there better alternatives?

Middletown’s Advisory Group hasn’t produced a shred of proof that more fields are really needed– only unverified assurances from sports complex advocates. They have not conducted a survey of existing fields, their condition, the cost to improve them if needed, and whether they are being fully used.

They have not produced a study of alternative sites, ones that might be less costly, more centrally located, closer to schools and other fields, and ones that would not involve destroying open spaces and farmland currently in use.

Amazingly, this project has gotten this far with no arrangement for access to the property from the safest, most logical place, East Main Road. The committee is recommending “temporary” access from Mitchell’s Lane until permanent access can be arranged from East Main Road.

Mitchell’s Lane is already one of the busiest secondary streets in Middletown. This shows total disregard for everyone who lives in the greater Mitchell’s Lane area. How long is “temporary”? It could mean many months or even years of enduring heavy equipment, trucks, cars and buses on this narrow residential road.

Of more concern than traffic congestion is safety. Mitchell’s is not quite 16 feet wide, less than the opening for a two-car garage. More and larger vehicles pose a real safety threat–especially to joggers, walkers and bicyclists.

Advocates have said they want to begin the development with taxpayer money and will then look for private funds to finance the project. In other words, Middletown taxpayers are to pony up real money matched only by promises from sports complex proponents. What happens if the project is started with taxpayer money and the sports fields advocates can’t come up with the promised money? One hopes the Town Council would not commit taxpayer dollars under such risky circumstances.

The plan that will be sent to the Town Council has been driven by sports fields advocates, with only one brief opportunity for public comment over a nine-month period, with no proof of need, no consideration for smarter and less expensive alternatives, no thought about the most cost-effective use of taxpayer money, and no concern about the preservation of farmland and open space.

I hope the new Town Council, acting in the best interests of all Middletown taxpayers, will reject it.

Sara Poirier

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