Almanac

Viewpoint - September 25, 2013

Editorial: Atherton grandstand hits wall of resistance

Supporters of the upgraded playing field and installation of a new grandstand for Little League at Holbrook-Palmer Park are going back to the drawing board after the Planning Commission opposed many of the changes earlier this month.

Voters last November approved Measure M, the renovation plan offered by the Menlo-Atherton Little League, but the town has ultimate authority over the plan. A final agreement of the field improvement plan was scheduled to come before the City Council last week, but the item was pulled to give field supporters more time to revise the original proposal.

In the eyes of the Planning Commission, the Little League's idea of an improved field is too extreme for the park. Chairman Herman Christensen said "the physical improvements are too monumental, too large in scale and counter to maintaining the rustic nature of the park." The commission also said it wants the fences, foul poles and scoreboard built so they could be removed after the February-through-June Little League season.

Perhaps still riding the wave of the 75 percent approval by voters last fall, league officials no doubt believed that the plans presented to the commission were on track with what the community wanted. But it is now clear that the commission has a much lower-key installation in mind.

But commissioners and residents should keep in mind that along with an improved Little League field and seating area, the town will gain other benefits from the project, on top of ongoing maintenance of the field. In addition to resurfacing the tennis courts, the town also asked the league to donate 5 percent of the final construction costs, up to $50,000, for other park improvements. Two years ago the entire package was valued at about $500,000.

We hope that the league and the town can find a way to improve the playing field, which will appeal to the many new families with young children that are moving to Atherton. By the same token, Little League supporters should understand that Holbrook-Palmer is a historic park — Atherton's only park — and that it deserves protection from a major special use like Little League. The improvements should be designed to blend in with the open space theme of the park and still provide a positive experience for Little League players and their families. After all, the players are focused on playing the game, not the grandstand or other amenities.

Atherton is fortunate that Little League officials can make such a generous offer to improve the field. And the town needs to find reasonable compromises that will make it possible. Our hope is that both sides in this discussion can come out a winner.

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