In 1961, when the Scotch Plains Zoning Board accepted the Archdiocese’s application for (UC) to exist in a Residential zone (R-1 zoning to be exact), they did so with the condition that the school would always maintain a 25 foot tree/ landscape buffer. The intent of this requirement was to shield the adjacent properties (and potential future residences) from any disturbances that might occur and to maintain property value in this area of Scotch Plains.
In 2009, upon receiving a permit from the town of Scotch Plains (a permit granted without any public hearing before any township board) UC renovated its athletic field. Before the renovation, the athletic field was approximately 70 feet from our property line. The movable bleachers were placed 30 feet from our property line at the base of a small hill. When UC had baseball games, we had minimal interruptions from sound and spectators; because they stood 20 to 30 feet away from our backyard at the bottom of the hill. We (4 Dutch Lane) did not receive any errant foul balls because of the curved-top backstop and the distance of the actual field from our property.
The renovated athletic field is 20 feet closer to our properties. The bleachers are now fastened to a concrete retaining wall less than 15 feet from our property. Spectators stand less than 2 feet from our property line during a game. There is no tree buffer. There is no fence, no sound wall, nothing to shield the residents of this neighborhood from loudspeaker noise, whooping/ hollering of game spectators, spectators who (at times) peer over our fence and peek into our homes.
The most dangerous nuisance since the renovation is the numerous foul balls our neighborhood is subject to every time there is a baseball game or practice on the UC’s field. These errant foul balls land anywhere in our yards, even 4 feet from our homes and right on our decks/ patios. While ticket holders and spectators attending a game inherently accept the risk of being hit with a baseball, we do not just because we live next to a high school field.
In fact, on the 26th of April an errant foul ball landed 2 feet from my toddler in the middle of our patio table and rolled onto our deck.
UC has been notified both verbally and in writing several times since 2009 regarding the foul ball issue. They have done nothing.
- Sep 7, 2010 Scotch Plains Town Hall Meeting: Jim Reagan Jr., Sister PercyLee Hart and Karen Piasecki were in attendance. My neighbors and I spoke to the numerous noise, privacy disturbances, and foul balls flying into our yards during baseball games and practices. Responding to the Mayor’s invitation, Mr Reagan noted his knowledge of the errant foul balls – but offered no apology. Instead he said “I left them a bucket, and I never got any (foul) balls back.”
- Sep 21, 2010 Scotch Plains Town Hall meeting: Jim Reagan spoke publicly that UC would take care of the foul ball issue. This was 6 months before the start of the 2011 baseball season.
- November 29, 2010: At the request of the township, I and my neighbors agreed to a meeting in good faith (without attorneys) with a parent representative of UC - Vito Gagliardi, Jim Reagan, Sister PercyLee Hart, Karen Piasecki, Township Attorney Jeff Lehrer, Mayor Nancy Malool and Township Manager Chris Marion. At this meeting, Mr. Gagliardi promised that the foul ball issue would be taken care of. UC would develop a landscaping plan to buffer noise disturbance, protect our privacy and maybe even intercept some of the foul balls. We also agreed that a landscaping buffer with a backdrop of evergreens would provide a beautiful setting for their athletic field and school. We asked UC to consider the use of a curved top backstop – such as the one they had previous to the renovations as that seemed to be effective at the time. Still; with the field 20 feet closer to our homes, no one could guarantee that anything would work. However; my neighbors, my husband and I left this meeting believing that UC was sincere in their intention and looked forward to working toward a resolution.
- In February, 2011 UC sent a proposal to one neighbor that contained an 80 foot high netting to be attached on top of the fencing already in existence. Unfortunately, a proposal to one family does not provide a solution for the neighborhood.
- March, 2011: Baseball season starts – with nothing in place to shield our neighborhood from foul balls, spectator noise, etc.
- March 10, 2011: We and our neighbors wrote a joint e-mail to the town council asking for their assistance in rectifying the foul ball issue. We included articles regarding the types of baseball injuries we were afraid our families would endure if our safety was not guaranteed. We also made it clear that we do not agree to any risks these foul balls pose to us – in other words, UC will be held liable should anyone get injured or any property is damaged.
- March 19, 2011, Mayor Malool indicated to one of my neighbors that the township had written a letter to UC asking them to urgently rectify the issue of the foul balls AND to consider suspending use of the field for baseball until the danger could be rectified.
- As of May 9, 2011, we have seen nothing change.
In the meantime, our neighborhood is pummeled with errant foul balls every time there is a baseball game on the UC field – up to 10 to 15 per game.
When we researched baseball injuries, we found the following: reports of adults who have had reconstructive shoulder surgery, reconstructive facial surgery, traumatic brain injury (can no longer work or take care of their family); children who have suffered traumatic brain injury and concussions. And even adults and children who have died instantly or as a result of traumatic brain injury.
Upon being informed of these risks, Union Catholic has still done nothing.
Instead, we continue to have foul balls landing in our yards, risking injury and death to our family/residents. We have baseball players peeing on our properties because they don’t wish to walk to the building; we have players/ faculty trespassing on our properties searching for the foul balls they know have flown into our yards.
At the May 5 zoning board meeting, UC’s attorney indicated that they were working with the township to implement a solution to the foul ball issue – well; actions speak louder than words. As of May 9, 2011, my neighborhood has not been presented with any plan.
This past Saturday (May 7, 2011), a baseball flew into my yard, hitting my house above my back door and landed in the middle of my swimming pool. And my whole family + guests were outside in our backyard. And while plenty of spectators saw the ball come into my yard, heard the thump when it hit my house and patio; and looked to see what happened – no one from UC came over to make sure we were OK or to apologize. In fact; they have never apologized for anything.
- UC had considered their neighbors when they chose to design and build a major athletic field less than 100 feet from our properties.
- The town of Scotch Plains had insisted on a safety evaluation before granting UC a permit for renovating and moving a major athletic field 20 feet closer to our properties.
- The town of Scotch Plains had a formal municipal hearing where public notice was given to review the UC site plan before a permit was granted? Where issues could have been resolved and concerns addressed (much like the cell tower hearings and Union County/Ponderosa Farms)
- UC had taken advantage of the 6 months between September 2010 and March 2011 to prioritize, develop, present, gain agreement and implement a solution to the foul balls flying through our neighborhoods; so a serious, potentially fatal, injury could be prevented.
Shame on Union Catholic. How hypocritical of a school who claims to teach and hold its student body accountable for community values; to so flippantly disregard their neighbors’ safety and quality of life.
My husband and I have lived in Scotch Plains/ Fanwood for almost 20 years. Our children attend the public school system. Our daughter and son have both benefitted from the wonderful youth sports programs. My husband has coached both of our children through soccer and T-Ball. We have no objection to UC’s student body (or anyone else) having a safe and beautiful athletic facility. However, use of this facility by UC or anyone else should not be at the cost of our safety, our well-being, our quality of life and our property values. And no baseball game is worth the life of a child or adult.
4 Dutch Lane, Scotch Plains