Batter up!

I spend Wednesday nights at Little League fields around Grafton. I would spend Saturday nights there too, but I’m unfortunately working.

Baseball is one of my son’s obsessions. He taught himself to read one summer because he wanted to read the box scores on the sports pages. We’ve gone through the comedy years of tee ball, the learning curve of coach pitch and now the often slow walk around the bases that is kid pitch.

My daughter’s favorite field is Ferry Street, which has an actual name no one uses: McNamara Field. It has nothing to do with the grounds and everything to do with this:

Snacks are always a useful bribe when you have a younger sibling who has absolutely no interest in sports. Oh, she’ll pick flowers and talk your ear off and sometimes even watch the game, but she’s unfortunately not a baseball fan.

Yes, she even owns a pink Red Sox hat. You want to make something of it?

She insisted on taking this picture because “isn’t that the guy who built our house?” Isn’t Jon LeClaire the guy who built everyone’s house?

My question about Grafton, always, ultimately has to do with the increase in homes, and yes, our builder played a huge role in that. How can a town approve so many homes with three bedrooms or more without planning for the increase in population? It’s not just a Grafton problem. It’s a statewide problem. If a town is allowed to ask for mitigation from the developer if, say, a shopping center is built — sidewalks, additional lights, street enhancements — why isn’t the same done for residential building? We at least could have used some sidewalks from all the LeClaire neighborhoods around Grafton Elementary School down to the school so we wouldn’t have to bus each and every kid.

Oh wait, I’m getting off topic. I’m supposed to be feature-y today. Little League. Right.

The players like Ferry Street because it’s a “real” baseball field. They have dugouts, lights and once in a while someone even manages to open up the intercom to announce whoever is batting. They love that.

They always manage to botch the pronunciation of our perfectly respectable Italian last name, though. It’s how we know when to hang up on telemarketers, too.

Another plus for players: batting cages. Boy, do we need that this year. I’m not sure how much is rustiness from a winter out of practice — although they’ve had a lot of practices — and how much is the weirdness of kid pitch.

Behind home plate, most of the backstop is covered by an ugly blue tarp. This isn’t because something is under repair, which I thought at first glance. No, they had to put it up to prevent parents from gathering behind the backstop to glare at the pitcher, jeer at the batter and criticize the umpire. At least, that’s what I was told last night.

I can believe it, though. I happened to be on the opposing side shooting pictures while my son was pitching, and the comments from the parents about him caused an unexpected surge of violence through my body. I was good, though. I didn’t deck anyone. I didn’t even snap a flash in their faces. I just quietly reveled in the superiority of my DNA when he struck their kids out.

That’s allowed, isn’t it? I’m pretty sure the code of conduct allows for it.

The downside to Ferry Street: the view. The teardown of this hill started, I think, our first year in town. With the current housing market, we can probably expect to see this for a few years to come.

3 thoughts on “Batter up!

  1. I have been reading your blog for a few weeks. A really excellent job covering Town Meeting and doing some around-town reporting!

    This post is great – some nice photos of a day at the ballpark.

    As a member of the Planning Board (associate for two years and now just elected to a full seat), I wanted to chime in on a couple of your comments in this post. You raise some interesting points, and I wanted to fill in the picture a little.

    The Town (specifically, the Planning Board) has, in recent years, become much more aggressive in seeking mitigation from residential builders. For example, a new small development (Peters Estates) will be contributing two affordable units to the town’s subsidized housing inventory. Another new development, Brookmeadow Village, has been approved to include an overhaul of an off-site intersection, on which work will begin soon.

    We also have used a relatively recent innovation – flexible subdivision plans – to cluster homes in such a way to secure open space commitments elsewhere within the subdivision. Although we need to do a better job with opening this community-owned open space to public access (trail markers and maps, etc.) and with linking different open space parcels, this is a really a sea change in how developments get built.

    Many of the subdivisions in town were built without extensive mitigation, and even today, we have relatively little leverage under our zoning bylaw to deny a project or require extensive public amenities when a developer is not looking for some type of waiver of our subdivision regulations (use of common driveways, distance of a road opening to another intersection etc.). And certainly, across the state and in Grafton, we have not done what other jurisdictions around the country have done, and required developers to pay “impact fees.” (Commercial developments, by contrast, tend to generate a major set of impacts (especially traffic), for which the Planning Board is generally more empowered to seek mitigation.)

    As for the Ferry Ridge development that your last picture depicts, it is a major issue for the Planning Board, and you’re right, the market has halted its progress. The Town has relatively little to say about it getting built. But the good news is that the developer, the South Grafton Water District, DEP, the Town DPW, and the Planning Board have very recently agreed on a package of interconnected fixes to ongoing stormwater issues at the site, which should be implemented this construction season – and help prevent flooding of the excellent ballpark you and your kids (at least one of them) were enjoying.

    Keep up the good writing!

  2. Thanks Christophe, I appreciate the feedback and, definitely, the explainer about just what the town is doing in terms of mitigation. It’s a question several neighbors who moved here from out-of-state raised and I could only echo my father when answering them: “because that’s how it’s done here.” (He’s a real estate attorney who spent years on my hometown’s Finance Committee. I thought everyone grew up with subdivision maps, budgets and Town Reports lying around the house.)

    And it’s good to know there’s progress on the Ferry Ridge development. My 8-year-old learned about erosion this year, and she was kind of concerned. 🙂

  3. Christophe did a good job answering your question. As the member of the Planning Board who has been on there throughout the current building upswing (1991 to present), I can tell you we have always tried use everything available under state and local law, and not leave anything on the table.

    Massachusetts does not allow “impact fees” as such, but Grafton has a well crafted set of zoning by-laws (thanks to people who came before me) that do give us some leverage beyond what most towns have. Christophe cited recent examples of that.

    But developers push back and take us to court when they think we have pushed too far. The developer you mentioned was among those. Ultimately what the Planning Board can get for the Town is limited by the level of support from the Selectmen and Town Administrator who control the Town’s legal activities and in the end decide how far to go. I should note I think the support has been better in recent years than back when some of the developments referenced were being considered.

    The state legislature has been puttering along with reforms of the land use and development laws that govern all this for a number of years, but the development interests are very strong and there is nothing to show for it to date.

    One example: Massachusetts is the ONLY state in the nation that has the ANR rule we do (Approval Not Required). Are the other 49 states wrong about that? But it would seem civilian flagers will replace police details well before we see a change in that one.

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