Plans by Dover’s Parks and Recreation Commission to build two lighted artificial-turf sports fields as part of a new athletic complex at Caryl Park on Dedham Street are being met with opposition from residents who say the privately funded project is being pushed through without sufficient town input or discussion.
While few argue with the need for such fields in a town with top-rated sports teams and growing numbers of youth in organized sports, there is dug-in opposition to the site selected and the manner in which it is being proposed.
“If the town decided they want to pay for it, then great, asked and answered,” said Elisha Lee. “But to just do it with private funds and bypass the people who will use it is the wrong way to do it.”
Opponents say they have concerns over the extra traffic that would be generated by the new fields, the potential intrusiveness of the lights and the possible effect of synthetic fields on nearby wetlands. They also don’t like the idea that the project would alter the character of the park, which now has a small tot lot and is used for activities such as hiking, walking dogs, and cross-country skiing.
Rich Oasis, chairman of the commission, said the town panel began the process 18 months ago to come up with the best solution for increasing the number of playing fields available for youth sports, and decided privately funding the complex at Caryl Park is the best option.
He also said the commission has proposed a question be put on the May election ballot to gauge community support for the plan.
“More kids are playing more sports. More girls are participating. We’re adding teams and all that is great,” Oasis said. “But the flip side is that there are more kids, but not more fields.”
He said Dover lags behind other towns such as Weston, Wellesley, Sudbury, and Lexington, which all have more than one turf field for young athletes.
“Other towns have seen the value and wisdom in doing this, and we’d like the same opportunity for our kids,” he said.
The private-funding option is one being considered by many communities where the local sports organizations chip in to help build and then maintain the costly turf fields, particularly in the spring when mud and rain make grass fields unusable, according to Oasis.
Dover now has one turf field, built last year through fund-raising by the Dover-Sherborn Boosters Club at the high school, and Sherborn, which shares a school district and sports leagues with Dover, has none.
Initially, Oasis said, the plan was for taxpayers to pay for the fields. But after listening to residents who were skeptical of footing the entire bill for the $3 million to $4 million project, they turned to private financing.
He said fund-raising has not yet begun, but he is confident the money can be raised for construction.
Maintenance and eventual field replacement would be paid entirely through user-fees and donations, he said.
The Caryl Park project includes the two turf fields that would be built to accommodate football, soccer, lacrosse, and field hockey, an additional grass practice field for the sports, 13 light poles, a 100-space parking lot, and an asphalt, one-way access loop road that would involve a new access point on Dedham Street.
While Town Meeting has no role, the Conservation Commission, Planning Board, and Board of Selectmen are involved.
There are wetlands on the 85-acre Caryl Park parcel deeded to the town in the will of George Ellis Chickering in 1917 for recreational use; the property is used by hikers, people walking dogs, horseback riders, cross-country skiers, and families using the tot lot.
Oasis said engineers hired by the Parks and Recreation Commission are waiting for the snow to clear before finalizing the locations of the wetlands in relation to the proposed fields, parking lot, and road, which he said would cover about 5 acres.
“They might have to be moved a few feet one way or the other,” he said.
If the Conservation Commission approves the final plan, Oasis said, it would again go before the Planning Board, which has already held two public hearings on the proposal. He expects that to happen in April or May.
The Planning Board has a say because Caryl Park is on Dedham Street, a designated scenic road. While the Planning Board can not directly vote yes or no on whether to allow the project, it will make a recommendation to the Board of Selectmen, which will vote whether to approve the site plan review.
Board of Selectmen chairman Jim Dawley said his board takes the Planning Board’s recommendation “very seriously.”
He said the process will be “professionally done, completely vetted, and every question will be answered” before a decision is made.
For those who oppose the project, traffic along the already busy route is a major concern. Sports teams use fields nearby, they say, and the added fields would make it worse.
“Dedham Street is already backed up in the spring when the sports teams start playing,” Lee said.
Lights are another issue.
While Oasis said they are proposing “state-of-the-art” lighting that concentrates the light onto the fields while projecting as little as possible out into the surrounding areas, neighbors are worried the 70-foot-tall poles being considered would blight the park.
They also say locating synthetic fields near wetlands in a town solely dependent on well water needs to be examined.
For many, however, the character of Caryl Park is at stake.
“Caryl Park is a real resource for the town,” said Sally Helwig. “Sports are important for kids, of course, but kids should also be able to take a walk in the woods and appreciate natural beauty.”