Since I began Community Matters, I have had several Valley Hills neighborhood members write to me about the new artificial turf field at Delaware Valley Friends School, and associated community issues as a result of the field’s construction. This Paoli neighborhood is located in the East Central Avenue area in close proximity to the Friends School and some of the residents have had specific issues since the installation of the turf field, including lighting, generator noise, increased traffic, buffer intrusion, etc.
At last night’s Board of Supervisors meeting, under the ‘new matters from citizens’ section, the issue of the turf field resurfaced along with specific questions. There was also an announcement of an upcoming meeting at Delaware Valley Friends School (DVS) this Wednesday at 7 PM between DVS representatives and the neighbors.
I have tried to piece together some of the background on the turf field project and the open issues and ongoing concerns of the neighbors. At the supervisors meeting, Steve Ross, a Valley Hills resident, asked the board why an $800,000 turf field did not require a building permit. Mimi Gleason explained that because the school was changing an existing field in to turf field (rather than creating a new field) the project was not a land development project, regardless of the cost. However, the project did require a grading permit; Mr. Ross has asked to see a copy of that permit.
Here is some of the history of the project as I understand it. The early discussion on the turf field began in the late summer of 2008. I should mention that up until this point, the local neighbors had enjoyed an open and friendly relationship with DVS and the residents and their children were welcome to use the existing school playing fields if they were not being used. (Now there are large, rather unwelcoming signs indicating the field is for use by DVS and Tredyffrin Easttown Youth Soccer Association (TEYSA) only). In late summer, TEYSA in a partnership agreement with DVS developed the project. Although it appears that DVS still owns the field, TEYSA has a ‘sports easement’ to use it (I am not entirely clear about the meaning of this term). It is my understanding that TEYSA paid for the turf field through fundraising efforts. I am unclear whether TEYSA fully funded the project or if there was financial contribution from DVS.
Many of the Valley Hills neighbors feel that the problems began at DVS (with the turf field) as a result of not being included in the process and discussion. Having previously shared a good relationship with the school and its administrators, I think that the neighbors feel they were a bit blind-sighted and not kept in the loop. It is interesting to note that the township has maintained because the usage of the field was not changed, a building permit was not required. Without a building permit, there would not be a legal requirement to notify the neighbors. However, neighbors claim that the blueprints are very clear about building in water containment tanks since water does not perk the same into turf as it does into soil But without a building permit, there were not inspections – therefore leaving the local residents to accept the word of DVS that the turf field was indeed constructed as planned. The turf field was built into the buffer and no variance was filed with the township. Was a variance required and if so, was it the responsibility of DVS or TEYSA?
The strained relationship with DVS and its neighbors started when the buffer of mature trees were taken down. Although DVS apparently claims that there were not aware that the contractor would remove so many trees, the blueprints actually tell a different story. The neighbors witnessed the aftermath of the tree removal vs. being advised and included in the process prior to the removal of the trees. I maintain that you can never give the community ‘too much information’; rather it’s when they are left questioning that the problems occur.
Fast forward to May 2010 and how does Delaware Valley Friends School’s artificial turf field continue to impact the neighbors in and around East Central Ave? The once passive recreational area, that the school and neighbors enjoyed, has dramatically changed. The character of the neighborhood and the open space has transformed in to a very commercial, noisy setting with the construction of the turf field, its lighting, increased traffic and noise issues. Specifically, the lights and the artificial turf have increased the use of the field from very occasional evening and Saturday use to every evening and all day Saturday and Sunday use. The neighbors have no relief from the increased traffic on East Central Avenue. Cars start coming in at 5 PM weekdays, 8 AM on Saturday and Sunday mornings and stay until well after dark. With or without the lights on the field, people stay until after dark using car headlights to extend their time on the field. This is certainly a problem and one that needs further discussion between DFS, TEYSA and the residents.
Although one can not go back and plant mature trees that were removed for the project, can the neighbors negotiate the re-planting of some trees and vegetation to help create a new buffer zone around the field? This might improve the open sound and lighting issues. The new turf field was built in to the buffer zone so it will require some creative landscaping ideas. Working together with the community, perhaps a solution could be found.
Is TEYSA required to conform to the township’s standard at this site as in other township fields? Or, because the field is privately owned by DVS, are they exempt from any restrictions? I would encourage neighbors to attend Wednesday night’s meeting at DVS. The turf field is now a reality, but there needs to be a way for the field and its users to peacefully exist in the community. It is hoped that this meeting may bring thoughtful discussion and compromise from both sides. The field lighting and usage, in addition to the impact of the field on the Valley Hills community, needs to be fully understood. This situation begs for resolution for the affected local residents.