The rain on Sept. 15, didn't keep people away from the hearing of the Muttontown ZBA on the St. Dominic property on 25A. The parish has been waiting for approval for Monsignor Ribaudo's Field of Dreams - in the meantime, they have been renovating what will be the retreat house, for 10 to 15 people, on the lot. New windows and doors have been installed in the 1950/60 style house on the site.
The ZBA hearing was about a 48.06 acre parcel owned by St. Dominic's R.C. Church, needing a special use permit and variances to allow the construction of proposed playing fields, a field house and the use of an existing residence as a spiritual retreat center.
A variance is also being requested for a 16.12 acre lot, the remainder of the Stoothoff Farm property, for a single building lot which does not have any frontage on a street, with the required 200 feet of frontage. The area is three-acre zoned.
The main issues the ZBA questioned included traffic, the number of children using the fields and the hours of operation. The meeting began at 8 p.m. and ended about 11:30 p.m., when ZBA chairman. William Floyd Jones said the meeting would be continued at a future date. Most of the evening had been taken up by Attorney Jeffrey Forchelli's presentation, representing St. Dominic's - until about 11:15 p.m. Only two people were able to speak in opposition to the plan.
Mr. Forchelli introduced expert witnesses whom he questioned on the mission of the parish, traffic, drainage, environmental impact, and real estate values affecting the proposed athletic fields for students at the St. Dominic Elementary and High Schools, and the parish physical education outreach into the community - the CYO.
Tullio Bertoli coordinated the design team as he worked with Monsignor Ribaudo in shaping his vision. He said the process began two years ago. The plan has remained malleable through 18 open workshops and has had 40 revisions before the present hearing. The diagram/drawing of the fields shown at the meeting reflected the most recent change.
The field house has been moved to the easterly side of the property, an area with a down slope. The result is it appears to be a two story house at the front entrance ( one story and a pitched roof with dormers) and is a three story building in the rear. They raised a balloon to the height of the roof and it could be seen from the middle of the property, but not from the road, he said.
"No plan is fixed in stone," he said. "We met with various groups and added mitigating details." They reduced the fields from nine to six, added a six acre buffer in front and the field house will now look like a residential house, he said.
An original plan had the entrance through the private road at the right of the site: now it is in the center of the fields. There was a consideration of going through Chelsea Center, a move that would have been beneficial to visitors to the Nassau County cultural center, as it would have changed the entrance road to be opposite the Mill River cut in the median.
That suggestion was denied by the county as a result of a covenant on the deed. None of the land can be given to another entity, said Mr. Forchelli, during the testimony.
In an early form, the fields would have been used by the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Soccer Club to which many parish children belong. That option was withdrawn in response to residents' comments.
The Muttontown legal process began on Feb. when St. Dominic's made an application to the Muttontown Planning Board. Mr. Forchelli tracked the progress to a March 22 Planning Board hearing to the decision for the ZBA to become the lead agency on July 7.
The ZBA board members, Lisa Baker, Ellen Manoff, Rich Entel, William Floyd-James, Muttontown Village Attorney Peter MacKinnon, Dr. Stephen Fortunoff and Gerald Rooney, appeared well prepared, bringing up questions that had been brought up by residents in earlier discussions and some that came from questioning the material presented by Mr. Forchelli's experts.
They questioned the number of children in the physical education and CYO programs and the hours they would be using the fields and tried to envision how traffic would flow in and out of the facility.
Traffic appeared to be a key issue. Muttontown resident Chuck Becker, a 42-year resident of Linden Lane said his car was rear ended in 1960 and his sister was in a cast from her chin to her knees. He said traffic on the road has increased since that time and showed charts created with information from the Old Brookville Police for the past three years. One chart showed the state and county roads around Muttontown and the other showed the Pine Hollow Road/Route 106 area. On Route 106, in 1998, there were 200 reported accidents with 35 injuries, he said.
He also questioned the fact that the former Stoothoff farm would remain untouched when creating the fields, as opposed to the development of 14 houses. He said the land is hilly and creating fields would mean filling in land to make them flat. He asked what the fill will do to the trees.
During the testimony, environmental expert James P. McAllister said about 30 trees will be taken out and 740 new trees and 3,000 shrubs will be planted.
His third area of concern was current village laws. They had been used by Mr. Forchelli to say the fields were maintaining open space and keeping away development.
Mr. Becker said the village laws were created to maintain the health, safety and convenience of residents. "There is a need for an independent traffic study to be done," he said.
The traffic expert, Mr. Eschbacher said NYS DOT said there is not enough traffic to allow for a light by the fields. They approved the traffic plans made by St. Dominic's. The plan includes an entrance and exit lane, re-surfacing the road to reduce skidding, an Island curve at the field exit to funnel traffic east, arrows on the pavement and no left turn signs. St. Dominic will pay for the road work.
The board questioned the number of buses or cars that could stack up in the left turning lane on 25A, which has an incline.
Traffic expert Eschbacher said the slope will be reviewed by DOT and "If they want a longer turning lane, we will do it." The DOT will make the final determination about the road's safety, he said.
Chairman Floyd-Jones asked if St. Dominic plans to expand. Monsignor Ribaudo said "down the road - many years away," they are considering turning the convent, on church property, into a science center "to keep up with the advances of the 21st century."
Having that extra facility would allow the school to have 100 more students, he said.
Enrollment at St. Dominic's has grown from 270 in the elementary school to 375 and from 420 in the high school to 505. There is a waiting list from Pre-K to 12. He said children of all faiths are accepted in the elementary and high school.
The religious education program for grades 1 to 8 has grown from 350 to 700 children from public and private schools.
Monsignor Ribaudo said the playing fields are "Essential for us to be complete as a parochial school and to provide state requirements for education."
There will be no bleachers built at the Muttontown fields, he said, and any spectator sports are played in the 2,000 seat gym on Anstice Street and championship games are usually played at Hofstra University.
The board asked another question residents had brought up at a village meeting: was it not possible for St. Dominic's to use the fields of St. Paul's Parish on Route 107. They have 31 acres of fields and the needed parking.
"I don't know how we could do it without throwing them out," said Monsignor Ribaudo. It would deprive that parish of their programs. They have a fine sports coach, he said.
Monsignor Charles A. Ribaudo said the fields will be used from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. by St. Dominic school children. The CYO program will run from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. It is an athletic program for girls and boys in grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. There are 12 to 14 children per team. They play baseball, softball and basketball. There will be no lights used, so the play will end at dusk.
Mr. Floyd-Jones asked if they would accept a covenant and restriction on the hours of use but Monsignor Ribaudo said that was unreasonable. He said on holidays the teams practice in the mornings and while the school will use the fields during the week, the CYO might have games on the weekend.
Mr. Floyd-Jones asked if the owners of the back 16 acres would agree to a restriction of not cutting down of trees or clearing the land. Mr. Forchelli said they might want a tennis court and swimming pool but that there would be no stripping of the land. He was willing to have the 16 acre parcel restricted to a one family house lot.
Board member Ellen Manoff asked Monsignor Ribaudo if the summer camp had a visiting day for parents and if it was a business. The answer to both was "no." She asked if there would be any parking on Route 25A if there were an overflow. Monsignor said no. The parking area has no curbs, so cars could if needed, park on the surrounding grass.
The summer CYO camp is for 6 to 8 weeks for 125 children. They will bring their lunches, he said.
The board was concerned about parents coming to see their children play in sports games. Monsignor Ribaudo said the most number of parents he had seen in his experience were no more than 20, 30 or 40 and less at girls games. He said championship games that attract crowds, are played at Hofstra University or another large venue. There will be no permanent bleachers on the fields.
He said football attracted crowds, but that St. Dominic had ended their football program and changed their focus to soccer and lacrosse.
The next meeting date will be reported in this newspaper, through a legal notice from the village.