A proposal to renovate Middlebrook Field’s natural grass to artificial turf garnered some attention at Monday night’s Planning and Zoning public hearing, with three people speaking against it and one person voicing support for the project.
The applicant, Wilton Youth Football, claims the project is meant to accommodate Wilton sports, the needs of which it feels are not met by the existing field at Middlebrook School.
The renovation would include an underground infiltration system, biofilter basins, retaining walls, rain gardens, and other measures intended to mitigate drainage and thereby limit the output of harmful toxins to the environment.
Pursued by Wilton Youth Football, the project would be privately funded, though the field and school both belong to the town.
The proposal was green-lighted by the Board of Selectmen and received approvals from the Inland Wetlands Commission.
Attorney Paul Sobel spoke on behalf of William and Eliot Patty, residents of 174 Ridgefield Road, citing several items in the Town Plan with which the application does not comply.
“If the application doesn’t conform to the regulations, you cannot approve it,” argued Sobel.
Specifically, he was referring to points in the application where not enough information was given.
“Section 29-11.A.6.J(2) requires the applicant to show location, size, height, orientation and design of outdoor lighting on the property,” he said, pointing out there was “no design information” in the plans.
He also alluded to a section in the regulations that requires a special permit applicant to include in the plans a survey from a licensed surveyor, which he said it did not.
Nor did it, according to Sobel, include information having to do with the location, dimensions, area or height of existing buildings, signs, fences and walls, which Sobel identified as further requirements outlined in the regulations.
“Wilton Youth Football should not be an applicant. This is town-owned property,” Sobel said as a final point.
Woodson Duncan of 121 Middlebrook Farm Road spoke as well.
He handed out a list of elements and compounds naturally occurring in tires, the vulcanization of which yields the rubber particulates that make up artificial turf.
Duncan argued that the presence of latex, which occurs in turf and is a common (and sometimes deadly) allergen with children — common to the point where a sign that reads “This is a latex-free zone” is displayed at Middlebrook School — should force the commission to vote down the application.
“If we spread latex all over the playing field, and the kids drag it into the latex-free zone — I’m having trouble getting my mind around that — two acres of material that contains latex in a latex-free zone,” said Duncan.
Anthony LoFrisco of 33 Cider Mill Place called the application “fatally flawed” and referred to it as being “dead on arrival,” urging the commission to seek advice from an outside expert and not from the “vendor.”
He felt that artificial turf could possibly cause cancer, and though he was not claiming that to be true, asked that the commission to take an extended period to think about the application before approving it.
Only one member of the public stood in alliance with the proposal. Chris Skillin is a volunteer for the Wilton Lacrosse Association board and head of Wilton girls youth lacrosse.
Skillin stressed that those in favor of the renovation have no hidden agenda, and the purpose of the proposal is to accommodate programs that are currently sharing space due to the poor quality of the existing natural grass at Middlebrook Field.
“It’s frankly impractical for us as a youth sporting organization to accommodate the number of children who participate in our programs on the infrastructure that is currently in place in town. As a potential remedy to that, the associations are offering to privately fund the replacement of the inadequate infrastructure in town to the benefit of the town and the participants in the sports programs.”
He called the outcries “scare tactics,” saying they came from “residents in the town who feel that they have a vested interest in debate because their properties border the property in question.”
None who spoke out against the project Monday night or were represented Monday night live beyond a mile radius of Middlebrook School, two of the three falling within a half-mile radius.
The commissioners spent the hearing listening to the comments offered and continued the hearing until their next meeting on Monday, July 13.
The Middlebrook field was a flashpoint two years ago when youth sports supporters applied for a special permit to erect 80-foot lights, allowing for practice and competitions to take place late into the evening and at night. After a contentious public hearing, that application was denied by the Planning and Zoning Commission.