2015-03-19 / Front Page

Sports Complex Strikes Out

62 Acres of Tibbetts Farm To Remain Open Space
By James Merolla

The youth of Middletown will have to look elsewhere for their fields of dreams.

By a resounding 7-0, the Middletown Town Council voted down a plan that would have built four or more athletic fields, parking areas, and trails on 62 acres of open space off East Main Road.

Opponents had trailed the proposal for nearly two years in a bid to keep the pristine Boulevard-Tibbetts parcels undeveloped. They ultimately outnumbered youth sports league proponents with vehement, well-planned, cogent arguments against the $9-$11 million proposal.

The vast majority of the 150 people who came to Gaudet Middle School to speak against the plan on Monday, March 16, still say they want fields for children, but not off East Main Road, not for an exorbitant price tag, and not on farmland.

Once 50 people made final arguments for and against the sports complex, Middletown Town Council President Robert J. Sylvia thanked all of them.

“We’re all neighbors and we’re all family, Middletown family. I think this exercise, if anything, has brought us closer together,” said Sylvia of the mostly respectful process, aired in public meetings over the last 18 months.

Council member Theresa Santos said she had seen many land development changes over the years, especially in the disappearance of other farms, and does not want to see any more vital open land lost.

“Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. Bye-bye,” said Santos.

“It’s too much money,” added Councilor Paul Rodrigues. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would see a project of this size.” Rodrigues said he was not aware of water quality issues when the town purchased the property in 2008. He was also concerned about safety, town access by easement through an LLC that is no longer incorporated, and future town finances.

“Financial responsibilities remain a priority,” said Rodrigues. In the near future Middletown will have to decide on multi-million dollar school bonds, sewer upgrades, storm water utility fees, and a road improvement bond “coming your way in the election of 2016," he said. Rodrigues estimated that the town will need $5 million, up to a potential $30 million, for these proposals. “I don’t want to scare anybody, but it is our decision to look at long range affordability.”

“I’ve had more emails on this issue than on any other that has come before us in my 11 years on the council,” continued Rodrigues. He said he would rather put money into fixing existing fields, after an indepth assessment.

Rick Lombardi said he has friends on both sides of the field controversy. “The decision is not for one side or the other, be they young, be they old, be they coach or be they farmer,” he said. “We have to make a decision that is right for the people of Middletown.

“I am convinced there is a need for our kids,” Lombardi added. “We are going to do whatever we have to do to take care of that need, to give our kids the best possible fields.”

Sylvia said there was a clear need and it was the council’s duty to provide fields in the near future. “We will make it happen," he said, but added that the proposed plan is not the right one.

With the 7-0 defeat, more than half of the 150 in attendance gave the council a standing ovation. Field proponents sat in their chairs. “We got nothing,” one said, as they left the school cafeteria.

Last October, a town volunteer committee recommended that the field complex be addressed in phases, with as many as five fields built first and more in the future. Earlier this year, the plan was pared down, but it was not enough for opponents and naturalists who want no more development of this kind in town. Their arguments were repeated again in force on Monday.

Phil Rondina reiterated concerns about the price tag and overall maintenance costs on top of “tight” tax bills. “There are so many other places where we can spend $11 million,” said Rondina. “Loads of fields and loads of acreage out there have already been put aside for the kids.”

Ed Sokol, whose family has been in town for six generations, said, “Fields are in much better shape than when I played Little League. The town has done a great job,” he said. As for bulldozing acreage that is home to wildlife, he added, “It’s unconscionable what you will do to animals in order to build a few fields. You might as well shoot them. They have nowhere to go.”

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