Neighbors of ballfields in West Babylon cry foul

Cesar Malaga, Joanne Forsyth and Michael Acerra with Cesar Malaga, Joanne Forsyth and Michael Acerra with balls that have landed in Forsyth's yard this season from the playing fields across the street in West Babylon. Photo Credit: Newsday / Judy Cartwright

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Judy Cartwright Judy Cartwright

Judy Cartwright writes the Community Watchdog column

What residents on Old Farmingdale Road in West Babylon want sounds simple enough: They'd like the town park across the road to be a better neighbor.

It's anything but simple. The playing fields are so close to homes that balls land in front yards. Parking is so bad that uninvited cars have been left in driveways.

The park, which is used by Little League Baseball and youth football leagues, arrived decades ago -- it was named for resident John C. Pape, an Army captain killed in Vietnam in 1969 -- and neighbor Joanne Forsyth speaks of the early days with fondness. With time, the good feeling wore off.

Forsyth, who lives about 100 feet from home plate, says the fields have become "overutilized" at the expense of neighbors.

In football season, she and other residents find it necessary to keep doors and windows shut to block out stadium lights and muffle the sound of the public address system. Similar tactics are necessary to keep infield dust from blowing into the house during baseball season.

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Forsyth moved in about 40 years ago and watched as a field of tulips was transformed into fields with baselines and a snack stand. And she wants to make it clear that she has nothing against the games -- her son played baseball, and her grandson loves the game.

But, she added: "This is my home. We have a right not to be blasted out by the sounds and dirt and dust."

Residents say they have attended Babylon Town Board meetings for years, asking that some consideration be given to their side of the street: Lower the volume of the public address system. Impose an earlier light curfew. Plant a buffer of trees or shrubs to screen out the noise and light, along with the dust.

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And install more nets to trap foul balls.

Michael Acerra, who moved to the street 29 years ago, said ball damage has required replacement of his garage door -- twice.

We asked what can be done to give the neighborhood a degree of game-day sanity.

Noise. "We can't hear ourselves think," Acerra said. Forsyth faults a public address system that has amplified voices "so bad that it hurts your ears."

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Linda Teufel of the West Babylon Football League told us a new sound system has been installed and the speakers are directed toward the field, away from the homes. Town spokesman Kevin Bonner said leagues "have been instructed to lower the volume of their sound system, and this will be monitored by the town."

Lights. The curfew is 11 p.m., Bonner said, as it is at most other town parks. The Public Safety Office "will enforce this curfew and on nights where games are not being played, lights can be turned off earlier," he said.

Teufel said teams typically clear out before the curfew arrives. Friday night games end later than on other nights, she said, because they have a later starting time, 8 p.m.

But residents cite occasions when lights have stayed on past 11 -- and once when they were turned on late at night by a worker who said he was striping the field for a game the next day. Bonner said if lights are on past curfew, neighbors should notify the Public Safety Office.

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Would starting games earlier eliminate the need for late-night lights? Maybe so, but it's an unlikely option. Teufel said league games can't start until referees arrive after officiating at high school games.

Dust. When the baseball infield directly across the street is graded, "there's dirt and dust blowing everywhere, right across the street into our homes," Forsyth said. "You have that brown dirt on your furniture, you're breathing it . . . I could dust every day."

Bonner said town parks employees will be told to consider wind speed and direction before working on the field and "if necessary, water will be sprayed."

And West Babylon Little League president Tony Del Prete said he has asked his staff "to water down the field if it's playing dusty." He said the town recently upgraded the infield with a higher-grade clay mix, one expected to yield less dust. Netting. "There are currently nets installed along Old Farmingdale Road," Bonner told us. We saw one behind home plate, but neither it nor the fencing along the first-base line have prevented balls from landing in yards across the street.

Buffer. The strip of grass between the street and the fence isn't wide enough for a row of trees or shrubs, Bonner said.

Parking. Vehicles lining the street have blocked driveways and even been left in driveways, residents said.

Del Prete said he suspended a coach who parked in a driveway and apologized to the homeowner. The town has asked police to patrol the area during games, Bonner said.

Decades ago, residents didn't have a chance to weigh in before the lights arrived. Even today, public hearings aren't held before such park "upgrades" are made, Bonner said.

He added: "Very few, if any, of the current residents in the area were living in their current homes" at that time.

Joanne Forsyth was. And she's been trying to be heard ever since an afternoon in the late 1970s, when she came home from work to find a crew installing poles for stadium lights.

Good sense was missing when playing fields were located so close to homes, she said.

"The field came to me," she said. "I didn't come to the field."

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