Field(s) of Dreams

A plan to overhaul a dilapidated public park in East Providence is pitting some neighbors against each other - and forcing the mayor to defend a proposal the city submitted for state funding that he concedes has some inaccuracies.  Jim Hummel has the details.

SCRIPT:

It is the first major landscaping the city of East Providence has done at this park in decades.

Last month DPW crews spent the better part of two weeks clearing brush and taking down trees from Grassy Plains Park - 14 acres tucked away in a densely-populated section of Riverside that many people in the city have no idea exists, even though it has been here since 1975.

But the park is now drawing heightened attention, as a plan to revitalize the land has pitted some neighbors against each other and left Mayor Bob DaSilva defending a proposal he submitted to the state for funding to do it.

DaSilva: “From the get go the idea was to take an underutilized park, bring some life to it, bring some children to it, make it so it’s usable.”

It’s hard to find anyone living nearby who would disagree with that objective, but it’s what else the city told the Department of Environmental Management when it applied for a $400,000 grant to upgrade the park that is drawing attention. The application talks about soccer fields - the mayor envisions them for organized leagues in the city and from out of town.

Falaguerra: “The neighborhood is all for doing something nice.”

Rita Falaguerra moved in across the street from Grassy Plains Park shortly after it was completed 45 years ago. She said the issue for her - and dozens of others who live adjacent the park - is parking problems resulting for having leagues in the past - mainly baseball.

Falaguerra: “Nobody, nobody is for organized sports and that is because nothing’s changed: the streets are still narrow.”

The lot at the entrance to the park holds only about 15 vehicles, forcing visitors to find other alternatives. Many came to Tanglewood Drive, where the backyards of many homes are situated directly next to the park.

Falaguerra: “Tanglewood Drive was never, ever, ever designed to handle all kind of traffic.”

A year ago, several families with young children approached DaSilva to see if the city could give some attention to the long-neglected park. They created a Facebook page and conducted an online survey that the mayor included in his 22-page application to DEM - saying the results showed a strong desire to provide active recreation, include ball fields and soccer fields.

Falaguerra said she and the neighbors near her were never contacted, and would have never agreed to the proposal as submitted.

So we asked DaSilva about the specifics, in an interview last week in his office at City Hall.

DaSilva: “People are spreading around the rumor that we’re trying to turn the park into a multi-field soccer complex, something similar to what other communities may have. Like in South Kingstown they have a multi-field soccer complex, and Pawtucket has one. That couldn’t be the furthest thing from the truth. That was never in the concept, that was never in the plan.”

But the application includes this Google Earth map with big circles showing plans for fields that would extend deep into nearby woods. DaSilva said that was a mistake and should not have been included.

But the document also outlines plans for quote: “several soccer fields,” including a regulation, youth and practice size. DaSilva said the plan is actually to have only one regulation, 120 by 80 yard,

Hummel: “It’s not just one field, right?”

DaSilva: “Look, I don’t know what was put in there, we’re not looking to do multiple fields.”

Hummel: “Well you signed it mayor.”

DaSilva: “I know I signed it.”

Hummel: “It’s where it’s underlined down below, so what I’m saying is: when people read this, this may be why some of the neighbors are a little concerned. See where I underlined down below? That’s talking about a field, a practice field, several fields.”

DaSilva: “Right right.”

 

Hummel: “So do you understand why people reading that might be a little concerned?”

DaSilva: “I can see that. I was aware, or under the impression, there it’s one field. That’s all we’re looking for. We’re looking to do one field at the location.”

Hummel: “But that’s not what the grant says.”

DaSilva: “I gotcha, I gotcha.”

Hummel: “Would you envision that being a field for a league to be able to use it?”

DaSilva: “I can’t see why not, let’s be realistic here. All of our recreational and fields are situated inside neighborhoods. Look, this whole NIMBYism - this Not IN My Backyard attitude. I don’t go by that. I go by what’s going to benefit everybody.”

Falaguerra: “The it became we were terrible people. We’re singing the Oh Not In My Backyard song. Which, I can understand, but guess what? Before you use that against us, come take a look, okay? As many in the city have and they’ve all - except for this council, two councilmen and the mayor - have all agreed that the location is terrible.”

DaSilva said the city would amend the application and if East Providence is awarded the grant money would work with DEM and the neighbors to reach a compromise satisfactory to everyone. He downplayed the number of people who arrive for games, and pledged to create parking for dozens of cars further into the park.

But it’s unclear whether the city would be able to do that, with wetlands on either side of the pathway in. This is what it looked like earlier this week after a day of rain.

Hummel: “Has your Planning Department done a traffic study of that area over there?”

DaSilva: “ We have not done a traffic study.”

Hummel: “Is that something you think you’d want to do?”

DaSilva: “That might be something we may do, should we get awarded the grant. I mean these things cost money and if we’re going to do a traffic study, we’d have to put that into the grant.”

Some of the neighbors also take issue with the estimate on how many people arrive for any given game.

Javery: “My concern is safety. I drive Grassy Plain every day.”

Denise Javery watched her daughter grow up playing sports.

Javery: “It can’t handle the dynamics of even one organized field. Because I knew when we played Little League all of the parents would show up in separate cars because the kids would have to be there half an hour earlier. My parents at that time were healthy and driving, they’d come to watch my daughter’s game. Then you have the next team come in and you haven’t finished yet and left, and certainly there was always problems with parking when we had the smaller fields.”

Falaguerra: “I don’t care how many years go by,  you’re not going to make the streets wider, you’re not going to be able to redesign the property leading into that playground. That can’t change, unless they buy every house on Grassy Plain.”

DaSilva: “ Our goal is to put a soccer field there, we will work with the neighbors that are concerned on Tanglewood with the parking. We’ll sit down, we’ll come up with the council person and see if we can’t put up no parking or resident parking only, or even create a permit parking system.”

Javery: “The compromise here would be to have an all-use field that anybody could use that wasn’t organized - restore the tennis courts, restore the basketball courts. Since they’ve cleaned this, people have been coming down and playing basketball.

Twice over the past two decades the neighbors have been able to lobby the City Council to fend off attempts to put in fields that would allow for organized sports. The question now for some: does DaSilva have the authority, as the city’s first elected mayor, to carry through his vision for soccer, which he has been heavily involved in as a parent and coach, if the residents are divided?

DaSilva: “I know that there’s a shortage of fields right now because when I used to be involved with soccer, it was hard to find field space, just to run a practice. Why should the kids who live in that community, live in that neighborhood not have access to a nice playground or field where they can play.”

DEM is expected to make a decision on whether the city will receive a grant sometime this spring.

DaSilva: “ My thing is, hey, I’m going to advocate for my community as a whole. What’s the best use of this land for everybody? Not just for the four or five people that live on Tanglewood - for everybody in the city of East Providence.”

In Riverside, Jim Hummel, for The Hummel Report.

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