http://almanacnews.com/print/story/print/2013/09/11/atherton-little-league-plans-face-opposition


Almanac

News - September 11, 2013

Atherton Little League plans face opposition

• Council seeks compromise on new ball field facilities in Holbrook-Palmer Park.

by Barbara Wood

Last November, in an Atherton election that sharply divided the town, there was one measure on the ballot most voters agreed on: renovation of the Little League baseball facilities in Holbrook-Palmer Park, a measure approved by 75 percent of the voters.

Despite the election outcome, plans for the baseball field have bogged down, with the town's Planning Commission opposing many of the changes the Menlo-Atherton Little League has proposed.

The Little League, according to representative Mike Haven, is only asking to do what the voters approved. Its plan includes a new backstop, seating in a covered grandstand, covered dugouts, a fixed electronic scoreboard and foul poles, new permanent fencing, improvements to drainage and irrigation, and an overhaul of the playing area

Atherton's Planning Commission thinks "the physical improvements are too monumental, too large in scale and counter to maintaining the rustic nature of the park," commission chair Herman Christensen told the City Council on Sept. 4.

At that meeting, council members worked toward developing a compromise proposal for the Sept. 18 meeting, when the council is scheduled to vote on an agreement with the Little League.

Under the agreement, the Little League would pay for the ball field improvements and donate money for other town projects, including resurfacing of the park's tennis courts. The town also proposed that the Little League donate 5 percent of the final construction costs, up to $50,000, for other park improvements.

Hours were spent at the Sept. 4 meeting discussing project details including: whether 2 feet of bench is enough room for the rump of the average local baseball fan (and their belongings) or if 3 feet is actually necessary; whether right field or left field would be the best place for a new scoreboard; and who should mow the field's grass during baseball season.

The proposed grandstand would have public bathrooms and storage in the rear of the structure.

In addition to down-sizing the bleachers, commissioners unanimously wanted the fences, scoreboard, and foul poles to be removable so they could be taken down after the February-through- June baseball season, Mr. Christensen said.

"By accepting our recommendations, the park can be saved along with getting an improved ball field," he said.

One of the main points of contention is the amount of bleacher seating to be built. The Little League says its proposal would comfortably seat 100 people with 36 inches per person allowed. But the California building code states that 18 inches is a seat size; under that definition, the Little League plan would allow bleachers of a capacity for 200 people.

Council members spoke in favor of down-sizing the seating, with several saying they think 24 inches for 60 to 100 spectators would provide plenty of room. But Councilman Cary Wiest said that as a big person who often brings kids and lots of gear along to a ball game, he'd like more room.

Councilman Bill Widmer urged compromise. "I don't think we need to make it larger than it needs to be," he said. He asked the town to work with the Little League "to see if there's any kind of compromise," and asked for them "to work as a team to make this happen but to preserve the integrity of the park."

Council members also appeared to favor compromises on other parts of the plan as well, such as making some of the fencing permanent and some removable. They asked for investigation into the practicality of removing the foul poles and the scoreboard.

As to the question of who will mow the fields during the baseball season, City Manager George Rodericks said he will look at the agreement the Little League has with Burgess Park in Menlo Park for inspiration.

The matter is scheduled to return to the council at its Sept. 18 meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, 91 Ashfield Road.

Visit tinyurl.com/LL-906 to download a PDF document with more information on the Little League proposal, including drawings.

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