Haines Park plan debate: Trees, fields and neighbors

Resident: ‘It looks like bite by bite, you’re taking Haines Park away’

By Josh Bickford
Posted 7/7/22

Neighbors to Haines Park voiced concerns about the town’s plan to build a new multi-use athletic field there, during a special workshop Thursday night, June 30, at the Peck Center for Adult …

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Haines Park plan debate: Trees, fields and neighbors

Resident: ‘It looks like bite by bite, you’re taking Haines Park away’

Posted

Neighbors to Haines Park voiced concerns about the town’s plan to build a new multi-use athletic field there, during a special workshop Thursday night, June 30, at the Peck Center for Adult Enrichment. 

They shared concerns about cutting down trees at the park, stormwater run-off from the newly proposed field, and noise and traffic issues. 

During one exchange, a resident asked town officials how many trees would be removed as part of “Phase I” of the work.

About six, was the answer. Kevin Alverson, a landscape architect hired by the town, explained how Barrington planned to plant two new trees for each tree cut down during the work. 

But they would be smaller trees, the resident responded. 

Well, young trees grow faster than older trees, the landscape architect said. 

But owls live in the big trees, the resident replied. 

Despite numerous efforts to explain the need for a new athletic field, and the expected benefits to the proposal, some (maybe most) residents at the workshop still appeared skeptical of the plan. 

“It looks like bite by bite, you’re taking Haines Park away,” said Sandra Wyatt.

First drafted more than year ago, the plan calls for changes to the western and eastern ends of Haines Park. Town officials have since separated the plan into Phase I (western end work) and Phase II (eastern end work). Officials appear to be most confident in the likelihood of Phase I. 

Barrington Park and Recreation Commission Chairman Mike Seward ran the meeting and initially shared some background about the park plan. He said the Ad Hoc Athletic Fields Advisory Committee studies the sports facilities in town and determined that the youth leagues needed another one to two fields. The committee, he said, also studied the available land in town where a field could be constructed, and eventually settled on Haines Park. From there, town officials met with landscape architect Alverson, who built a rough plan to construct a large multi-use field near the western end of the park, and shift the Harrington Field baseball diamond closer to the softball field and dog park. 

The plan also called for Phase II — a second multi-use field to be constructed at the eastern end of the park, just south of the intersection of Washington Road and Haines Park Road.

Barrington DPW Superintendent John Renquinha offered additional background, citing a proposal in 2000 to build a baseball complex at Haines Park. He said that plan was opposed by neighbors. He also said some of the field space issue is caused by the expansion of youth sports in town — it used to be that each sport was contained to a single season: Soccer and football in the fall, baseball and lacrosse in the spring. But now, he said, sports are all year long.

Renquinha also said the plan built by Alverson offered a low-impact approach to adding field space. He said the state — Haines Park is owned by the state — still has the final word about whatever work is proposed for the park. 

Other town officials and board members shared other details: the need for more fields in the town’s comprehensive plan, said one official; there are scheduling conflicts with the fields at the new middle school, said another.

A resident asked why the youth sports leagues don’t use the high school fields more often. Officials explained that high school teams are given priority use of the BHS fields, and that there are times when youth sports teams use those fields. 

Another resident told town officials that maybe it was time for the town to say “enough is enough” to the sports leagues. She said there is only so much green space left in town, and officials should not be considering cutting down any trees in Haines Park.

Officials tried to explain that Phase I was their top priority, and that work would have a limited impact on the park — just a handful of trees removed, and new trees planted. Alverson said the town was trying to minimize the impact. 

Longtime resident Sandra Wyatt asked about the possible run-off issues the newly constructed field could have. Alverson said there would not be run-off issues, adding that the engineering phase of the work would be address any issues. Alverson said the work could actually result in improved water quality for Annawamscutt Creek, which runs through Haines Park. 

Another resident asked officials why they were proposing Phase I and Phase II when the town only wanted one new field. Alverson explained it was just part of a master plan. Some residents appeared concerned that there might be additional phases of work at Haines Park.

Barrington resident Scott Pickering said the town needs to address its substandard collection of athletic fields. He called for a complete re-do to the plan, asking that officials look at the whole park. He said they could create better buffers with the neighbors and also provide better athletic facilities. Fellow Barrington resident Michelle Coleman appeared to oppose the idea of creating an athletic complex in the park.

“If I wanted a sports complex I’d move to Texas,” Coleman said. 

Cat Horn, a member of the Park and Recreation Commission, said the town needs to have a larger conversation about field space in Barrington. She said artificial turf needs to be part of that discussion. 

Seward eventually started building a list of concerns neighbors had about the proposed work. The list included dust from the parking lots; whether expanded parking lots were needed; tree removal; wildlife living in the park; run-off from the fields; restrooms in the park; and the need for an environmental impact study for the work. 

A resident also asked about the funding for the plan. Barrington Town Manager Phil Hervey said the work for Phase I was estimated to cost about $1.1 million. Officials said the town had applied for a $400,000 DEM grant, but the state did not award the money to the town. Hervey said the American Rescue Plan Act funding given to the town would pay for the work. 

Residents also asked about the walking trails in the park, and said any additional work would have an impact on the quality of life for the neighbors. 

Toward the end of the meeting, Hervey said he anticipates moving forward with the design portion of the work for Phase I in the fall.

Residents’ comments

Following the meeting, residents milled about inside the Peck Center for Adult Enrichment and discussed the situation.

“This is the second meeting I’ve taken part in, on this subject,” said Casey Stenger, who lives near the park. “The first one we heard about without being included or reached out to directly as residents. (Park and Rec meeting). We felt dismissed. It was a frustrating meeting. What I like about this … there’s more of us here, and I think we’re being heard.

“… it’s nuanced. We hear, ‘We, Barrington, needs these fields.’ When in fact, ‘we’ don’t. The sports leagues specifically do. That’s a different nuance that is missed in this conversation.”

Stenger said there needs to be more public workshops on the Haines Park proposal and other issues.

“What’s good is the transparency that I think we’re finally getting some of. Because I think it’s been cloaked until now, which leads us to feel suspicious,” she said. “What does Phase 3, 4 and 5 look like? 

Regarding Phase 1, Stenger said: “I think it’s minimal impact on the wildlife, so that’s good … I would defer to the people who live closer to that field. Their point of view is more important that mine.

“It’s the things that cross the line — the dust, the noise — these are our homes. No we don’t own the park, but if someone wanted to put a street fair in front of your house every single day, even though you don’t own the street, you’d take issue with it.”

Coleman said she was more concerned about the changes planned in Phase II.

“We’re starting with Phase I, I feel better about it,” she said. I appreciate they are trying to do low-impact. I appreciate they are trying to consider aesthetics, and hearing them replant trees… all of this is good,” she said.

“I think in Phase I we can find a happy medium. I think the people that are concerned about the creek, the brook, and the trees and the wilderness, there is less impact in Phase I, from my understanding. But I also don’t know how many problems it’s solving in terms of sports. We’re throwing $1.1 million at something that I’m not sure is going to solve (anything). I still think it’s a town issue, but I don’t think the answer is a sports complex.”

Mike Seward said he was confident that neighbors’ concerns could be addressed.

“I think there are valid concerns. Granted they’re a minority in the town, and that has to be taken into consideration too, but definitely valid concerns. I think Kevin (Alverson) will work many of those concerns…the environmental impact study … into the plan to make it more acceptable,” Seward said.

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