Let Voters Have Final Say on Game on Sports Bubble, Referendum Should be Scheduled


When the Town Board votes to authorize a lease with Game On - some Board members and I will  suggest that a referendum be held this fall -- providing you, the voters, with  the opportunity to partner with your town government in the decision making  process.

Final approvals would be conditioned on voter approval.The benefits to a referendum (suggestion would be for the Town Board to put  this on the ballot):

1) It would provide Town Board members with the opportunity to explain why  we  think the proposed lease is a good deal for the town --generating  significant  revenue, taxes. Enhancing property values by addressing a quality  of life issue:  lack of fields.

2) It would offer you the chance to hear both sides of the issue: from Game  On and from House of Sports (which is leading the fight against the Game On  application).

3) It will provide the Planning Board with feedback from thousands of  residents.

4)  All the members of the Town Board & I value the feedback we receive  from you - our bosses!  What better way to show you that we appreciate your  input than to provide you with the chance to partner with us with this important decision? 

At a meeting the town had at Frank's a few weeks ago some  residents  asked for a referendum.  Please be advised that if a referendum is  held - there  still will have to be a comprehensive review by the Planning  Board. Soil testing still will have to be done, mitigation of contamination  will have to take place  and traffic studies will be required.

In recent weeks the Town Board has made some modifications to the original  lease: agreed upon guaranteed minimum fifth year net rent wording, enforceable  lien provisions should there be a default, default provisions expanded and  strengthened, structure removal obligation added, approvals threshold for  Tenant  to break lease clarified, lowered and time period shortened, requiring  Game on  to pay taxes.  We tried to listen to constructive suggestions from  residents who  have commercial real estate expertise.

I was reviewing my old files and located the following article that  appeared  in the NY TIMES over 11 years ago--about the growing shortage of  fields in the  region. One of the reasons why I support the Game on application is because we  need a more field space. I'm pleased that House of Sports will be  opening a  sports facility in Ardsley in the fall- think their facility serves  an important  need.

And, believe that Game On can co-exist -- with both  facilities being a big  success. If you read the following article please note that over 11 years ago the  voters in Hastings approved (ALSO in a referendum) the acquisition of more  field  space -- Burke estate.


Downside  of the Sports Boom: A Growing Shortage of Fields

ON  any spring weekend, they are stacked up like airplanes at La Guardia -- soccer  teams, waiting to get on the field. Finding  a field for a pickup baseball game or an impromptu soccer scrimmage is nearly  impossible -- municipal recreation and school fields are booked by organized  sports leagues well in advance of the season. But even leagues have trouble  finding space to play and practice.''Scheduling  games is becoming increasingly hard because most of the town programs are  growing at a faster rate than their fields,'' said Larry Bell, a Westchester  Youth Soccer League board member. ''As a result, there's been rationing of the  fields, where some towns won't register teams in the spring. Things have gotten  fairly acute if you can't let kids play.''Field  space was so tight in Greenburgh this year that the Elmsford Little League had  to limit the number of children who could sign up.''We  reached our maximum with 470 kids -- we only have two fields, and there are only  so many hours and weeks we can schedule games,'' said Howard Herzenberg, the  league's president. He said 20 to 30 children were turned away.Things  are so crowded that when Gwen Rankin went to drop off her 12-year-old daughter,  Mimi, for her first soccer practice of the season at Eastchester High School,  she couldn't find the team. It had been relegated to a strip of grass on the  sidelines.''I  checked the upper field at Eastchester High, and there was a team there,'' Ms.  Rankin said. ''Then I went to the lower field, and there was someone else there.  So I tried Tuckahoe and Bronxville, where they also sometimes practice. It turns  out they were on a side grass, not a real field, but she missed her first  practice because I didn't know to look off the field.''County  Executive Andrew J. Spano acknowledged the problem in his State of the County  address in April, promising to upgrade ball fields at Croton Point Park in  Croton-on-Hudson, install lighting at county-owned ball fields and develop  parkland for baseball diamonds and soccer fields.''This  is a quality-of-life issue,'' Mr. Spano said in an interview. ''When the county  got involved in parks, we got involved in getting passive park area for hiking  and boating and that kind of stuff. Now, we feel it's our responsibility to work  with municipalities and schools to develop ball fields.''Mr.  Spano has already committed $25 million to preserving open space, but his budget  for 2002 includes an additional $10 million, much of which will be used to buy  parkland for athletic fields.He  said the county would have a new focus on preserving land for active, as well as  passive, recreation.The  County Parks and Recreation Department is conducting a countywide inventory of  fields to determine what is available, which fields need improvement and what  areas might be developed. Recreation departments, which have traditionally had  the unhappy duty of allocating the fields, welcome the county's interest.''Our  department cuts the pie,'' said Robert Snyder, New Castle's superintendent of  recreation. ''In the springtime, soccer is competing against baseball, there's  lacrosse and the adult softball league -- they're all competing for space.  Trying to schedule things is like trying to figure out how to put 10 pounds of  macaroni in a 5-pound box.''The  reasons for the squeeze are many. First, there is a surge in the number of  children; county census figures show that the under-18 age group rose 21 percent  in the last decade, compared with a rise of 1.2 percent for those over 18. Not  only are there more children, but they are also playing more sports, and they  are doing so at younger ages.As  recently as 15 years ago, organized sports leagues for children under 10 were  rare. Now kindergartners play T-ball and soccer, and even if they don't keep  score, they use fields. Moreover, a 10-year-old who might have once played only  Little League may change from his baseball pants to his soccer shorts in the  minivan, as he races from one activity to the next.The  explosive popularity of soccer has certainly played a part in the field  shortage. But other programs, including Little League, softball, lacrosse,  football and field hockey, are also growing in enrollment. More girls are  playing organized sports than ever before. Compounding the problem is that many  sports -- traditionally thought of as either fall or spring sports -- are being  played year-round. Now the seasons never stop, with baseball in the fall, soccer  in the spring and indoor practices in the winter.In  addition, more adults -- particularly Hispanic immigrants who have brought their  passion for soccer to this country -- are vying for field time.As  the squeeze continues, games and practices are pushed as early and as late as  possible, and both children and their parents feel it. On a recent Saturday at 8  a.m. in Chappaqua, Matthew Witko, 12, was on a soccer field that was still damp  from the morning dew. Twelve hours later, he was at the plate at an 8 p.m.  baseball game across town, played under the lights.''It's  very tiring,'' Matthew said. ''I'm always running around. During soccer, our  trainer was screaming at us, 'You guys have to wake up,' because it was so early  in the morning. If I could sleep late on Saturday morning, I'd be joyous all  week.''Matthew's  parents aren't thrilled with the sports schedule either. On Friday night, Janine  Witko races home from work to get her daughter, Nicole, 8, to a soccer practice  from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Her husband, Peter, meanwhile, needs to get Matthew to a  6 p.m. baseball practice. Saturday begins with Matthew's 8 a.m. soccer practice.  Nicole then has American Youth Soccer Organization soccer practice from 9 to  10:30 a.m., and then a soccer game on Saturday afternoon. Matthew then has a  baseball game Saturday night. And so the weekend juggernaut continues, capped  off by Matthew's Sunday evening lacrosse matches.''We  don't see each other all weekend because between driving Nicole to soccer and  dance, and driving Matt to soccer, baseball and lacrosse, it literally goes from  8 a.m. to 8 p.m.,'' Mrs. Witko said. ''Sometimes you can't even find where your  team is, because there's a team on every field and they all look alike. And God  forbid you lose the schedule, because every day you're somewhere  different.''Jody  Green, of Ardsley, whose sons Eric, 14, and Zachary, 9, play baseball, also  finds that the field crunch is interfering with family life.''We're  being assigned times that are normally dinner times or family times, and its  just a pain in the neck,'' Ms. Green said. ''It's crazy with the scheduling and  very inconvenient. Like 6 on Friday night. Or my 14-year-old has 5:30 p.m.  Sunday Little League games. They used to not have sports on Sunday mornings  because of religious schools, but now it's all the time, because they're trying  to squeeze all the games in. It's gotten much worse.''And  those are parents with children on teams who managed to get playing fields.  Nancy Nager, of Hastings-on-Hudson, has a seventh grader on a community baseball  team that has no field for practice. The team played its first game without ever  practicing, and it's been a tough season ever since.''The  school sports and the town Little Leagues are occupying the fields, and my son's  team lost every game, which doesn't do a lot for their morale,'' Ms. Nager said.  ''And they've lost them on fielding errors.''For  Roberta Goodman, an Irvington resident, the field crunch has meant more travel.  Her two sons, Jesse Samberg, 14, and Aaron Samberg, 11, play soccer with the  American Youth Soccer Organization, but because of lack of space, there have  been only two home games this season. Weekends have been spent traveling as far  as West Point and Sterling Forest. Like other districts in Westchester,  Irvington plans more school construction, which will mean losing some  fields.Not  only is the crunch hard on families, but it's also tough on fields. Turf  requires rest, but with practices and games scheduled back to back, many  recreation superintendents complain that their fields are being turned into dust  bowls.Joseph  P. Davidson, a former New York City parks commissioner, now runs the parks  department in White Plains, and he is starting to get an uncomfortable feeling  of déjà vu.''I  dealt with a lot of these issues in New York City -- the intensive use of  fields,'' Mr. Davidson said. ''Now it's starting to mushroom out here. There's a  significant crunch of playing fields all across the board, in small towns, in  villages and in cities -- we're all experiencing increased numbers of  youngsters, teenagers and adults who want to play ball. We're struggling to find  and identify fields for them to play.''In  White Plains, more than 1,200 boys and girls are playing baseball and softball  this spring, and almost 900 are playing soccer. There are also several adult  soccer leagues, with more than 400 players.Some  towns, like Scarsdale, give baseball, softball and lacrosse leagues priority in  the spring; while soccer, football and field hockey get the nod in the fall.  Soccer teams in Scarsdale still get fields for matches in the spring, but not  for practices. Teams scramble to find a free field wherever they can for  practice.Most  municipalities also give priority to children over adults. This has been  particularly hard on adult soccer leagues, many of which are made up of Hispanic  immigrants. Both White Plains and Mount Kisco have immensely popular adult male  soccer leagues, but players often find themselves all dressed up with no place  to go.Peter  Maldonado is president of the Mount Kisco Soccer League, which has about 200  players, the vast majority of whom are Hispanic, and some of whom played on  national championship teams in their native countries. Mr. Maldonado said it  took several years for his league to secure even one field. Now the league holds  several games on Sundays, though no formal practices. Mr. Maldonado has several  teams on a waiting list that wish to join the league.''A  lot of people get upset because they think there's a lack of letting them  participate, but it's not that,'' Mr. Maldonado said. ''It's just that there's  no fields to schedule more games.''The  lack of fields has come as a shock to some immigrants, he added.''In  South America, it's a big activity,'' he said. ''I don't know if it's a custom  here, but for us, you get home, you grab your shoes and soccer ball and you go  and play.''Vito  J. Pinto, chairman of the County Legislature's Parks and Recreation Committee,  said he would like to see the county develop a complex of lighted playing  fields, which could be used for softball and baseball in the spring and soccer  or football in the fall. Such a complex could also be used for tournaments,  which is difficult now because fields are scattered.Mr.  Pinto said the county could develop fields on Glen Island, a public park in New  Rochelle; at the southern end of the parking lot in Saxon Woods in Scarsdale, or  on county-owned land at the Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla.Paul  J. Feiner, Greenburgh's town supervisor, had his epiphany about the issue when  he was campaigning for Congress last fall. Instead of campaigning in his usual  spots -- grocery stores and train stations -- a friend suggested he go to a  soccer complex in Rockland County.''I  got there and I'd be campaigning on soccer fields from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and I'd  meet like a thousand people, moms and dads and grandparents,'' Mr. Feiner said.  ''Then I started talking to people in Greenburgh and they were all complaining  about the lack of fields. I thought it was a shame because in Westchester we  pride ourselves on having the best recreation, but then you go over the bridge  and realize we don't.''Mr.  Feiner, who has been working with the county and with other municipal officials  on the issue, has also been courting private industry to develop athletic fields  which could, in turn, be leased back to municipalities. He said he believed that  an initiative for more field space was ''a motherhood and apple pie issue,''  adding, ''I doubt any elected official will come out against more  fields.''But  nothing is that easy in Westchester. One simple way to extend the use of fields  -- installing lights -- is often met with neighborhood resistance. Not only do  neighbors object to the lights themselves -- which are often mounted on 80-foot  poles -- but also they worry that lighted fields will develop into late-night  hangouts for rowdy teenagers.And  many residents want parks left as parks, and object to the traffic that athletic  fields bring with them.In  Hastings, there was controversy over developing an athletic field on the Burke  estate, a plan that was approved in a referendum last month. In Mamaroneck,  there is debate over moving a war memorial to make room for a new soccer  field.As  the county weighs the development of new fields, it is prepared for  objections.''You  will always have a conflict between passive and active recreation,'' said  Stanley G. Motley, the county parks and recreation commissioner. ''You've got  people who want active areas for their children, and you've got people who want  natural trails to hike on. We can't have everything in every community. We've  got 42 parks and 16,000 acres, and we're trying to find a balance, while serving  ages 2 to 82.''But  the thousands of children -- and hundreds of adults -- in their baseball and  soccer cleats this spring will tell you that they are hoping that Westchester  will build its own field of dreams.''A  10-field complex would attract from literally 40 miles away,'' said Felix  Ginorio, president of the White Plains Youth Soccer Club. ''Right now we have  teams going up to Putnam County to the dome up there and going down to Manhattan  to use the dock. If you build a complex, they will come.''ADS

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