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Planned athletic field stirs neighborhood opposition

It seemed like a good idea: Build a new athletic field for a community short on outdoor play areas. However, the idea now appears to be in trouble because of mounting neighborhood opposition.

The city school district last month suggested that a partnership of five government agencies develop a long-idle district-owned property in the city's northeast section into a $1.5 million athletic field that would serve youth and adult leagues and teams.

The other participants are the city, the towns of Batavia and Stafford and Genesee County. Each would apply for a $200,000 local government efficiency grant from the state. The School Board already set aside $4,000 to apply for a state environmental grant, which, if successful, would provide $600,000 for infrastructure. There would be no cost to local taxpayers.

Athletic fields, locker rooms, a concession stand, a walking trail and parking would cover the 12-acre site at the end of North Street Extension. It has gone unused for decades despite an extensive, decades-old upscale residential neighborhood that borders the west side of the property.

The plan as outlined by Steven J. Mountain, Batavia town engineer and School Board member, and School Superintendent Margaret L. Puzio could provide recreational space for the high school as well as a half-dozen amateur sports leagues, including soccer, youth football and rugby.

Opponents of the proposal, led by Councilman William E. Cox in whose 1st Ward the site is located, are strongly opposed largely because of the potential incursion of crowds, noise and traffic in a quiet residential neighborhood.

Cox also said there would be ongoing operational expenses, which are not acknowledged in the proposal.

Proponents promised that, since no tax money was involved, voter approval would not be required. However, the construction of a building on the site needs state Education Department permission and local voter approval.

The project committee acted following a study funded by the school district and the Town of Batavia on the need for more athletic fields.

The school district will hold an informational meeting at 7 p.m. Oct. 6 in Batavia High School to explain the proposal and likely future benefits.

"We're not going forward if residents don't support expanding and enhancing our athletic fields," Puzio stated.

The site , which fronts on East Avenue,was one of two purchased years ago as sites for new elementary schools. Voters last year approved the sale of the other site, in the city's southwest sector, to Hospice & Health Care.

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