The City Council on May 18 voted to allow the proposal to go before the Planning Commission, but some members made it clear that the league must work with local soccer and lacrosse leagues that also use the park in coming up with a plan that will work for everyone.
At least two council members and several residents who spoke indicated that they're not convinced that a spiffed-up ballpark would be appropriate for Atherton's only park.
Atherton resident Bob Hellman, whose Build Our Ballpark organization is backing the local league's effort to rebuild the ball field, presented a plan that includes a permanent back stop, seating, dugouts, scoreboard, restrooms, removable outfield fencing, and a Victorian-style grandstand. It also includes a complete overhaul of turf, drainage, and irrigation, and a commitment for ongoing care and maintenance.
The projected cost is $500,000, which includes funding for other park improvements included in the proposal, such as tennis court resurfacing ($75,000), extension of the nearby parking lot ($50,000), and park beautification ($50,000).
The town's Park and Recreation Commission unanimously recommended that the council allow the Planning Commission review to begin.
The existing baseball field is part of an expanse of land in the park now used for daytime practice and games by a number of youth sports teams. Little League supporters say, however, that the existing field is in the poorest condition and is the least safe of all the fields the league uses.
A number of people spoke in favor of letting the proposal go forward to the Planning Commission to work out details.
There were also speakers involved with AYSO soccer and the local lacrosse organization who noted that they hadn't known about the plan's development over the nine months the league says it has worked on it.
Mr. Hellman noted after the meeting that the league has been working with the town's Park and Recreation Commission but has also talked to leaders of the park-supporting Atherton Dames and the park foundation to try to ascertain the needs of other park users.
As for the other sports groups, working with them "will be the natural steps we take when the process really gets going," he said.
"No one group is trying to take (control) of the fields," he said, and he is optimistic that the various leagues will work together for everyone's benefit. If some people have felt left out of the process so far, he said, he is apologetic, but "they didn't miss out on anything — we've just begun."
M.J. Davey of Atherton, who over the years has worked with the local lacrosse league, said she supports the park being used by all youth sports, but urged the council to "slow down, do it right, get all the user groups together ... to come up with a cohesive plan."
Denise Kupperman, a member of the Atherton Dames, said the council should review the proposed ballpark project "independently of the money" that will be donated to fund it. The proposal "should stand on its own merits," she said.
Council members Elizabeth Lewis and Jerry Carlson expressed strong support for moving the proposal forward. But Mayor Jim Dobbie, who questioned whether an improved ball field is a good idea for the park, and Councilman Bill Widmer said the league said should do more public outreach before the town staff and commission get involved.
Councilwoman Kathy McKeithen, who criticized the league's lack of outreach to other park users, countered that involving town representatives now would make the outreach process more effective. Her list of concerns about the proposal includes the appropriateness of "putting this kind of ball field in the park," she said.
In addition, "I'm not happy with the way (the process has) been handled so far," she said, adding that by working with only certain parties, such as the tennis community — which stands to gain resurfaced courts — it appears to her that the league is "trying to buy your way in."
In the end, the push to involve town resources prevailed, and the council vote to move the proposal forward to the Planning Commission was unanimous.
Go to tinyurl.com/3vnzdb3 and find Item No. 17 to learn more about the proposal.