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Too close for comfort: Tonawanda residents object to stadium

When the Tonawanda City School District decided to move its athletic contests from Clint Small Stadium on Main Street to the high school/middle school campus, some residents along Adam Street wondered if the new field would be built where the old track was, farther away from houses.

When it became clear that the new home of the Warriors, with its bleachers, lights and loud speaker, would be closer to their homes, they asked for some relief, said Beverly Ranney Weber.

"All we asked for in the beginning was a privacy fence," she said.

They didn't get that, but they have gotten a lawsuit that is going to go to trial.

The field opened in 2013, and now residents know how loud the public address system is, how bright the lights are and how it affects them.

"At this point, they’ve given us six summers to see how bad it is," Weber said. "Now we know loss of value of property."

Weber and a neighbor, Joseph N. Pierro, filed a lawsuit against the district in 2014, seeking damages for the disruption to their quality of life, attorneys fees and any other relief the court might grant. The district sought to have it dismissed, and when it lost that ruling in February 2017, it appealed to the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court. The Appellate Division upheld the lower court, and a trial is scheduled for next February.

"The school ground is being used for purpose for which it is normally used," said Chris Trapp, the school district's attorney. "The athletic fields were already there. They just wanted it to be green grass behind their house."

The project, which also included improvements to the music and art areas of the high school, was well publicized and overwhelmingly approved by voters, he said. Trapp said the district's insurance company has taken over defense of the lawsuit.

Residents have struggled with the changes.

"The noise, the people, the activity, it's incredible," Weber said.

She said at night cars pulling into a circular driveway by the stadium shine into the family room of the home she has lived in for 40 years.

Richard Weber of Adam Street would rather have a privacy fence between his backyard and Tonawanda school's football fields. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

The district at first maintained the suit was frivolous and not filed within the required time limits.

"Plaintiffs cannot sit idly by and watch the school expend millions of dollars, and simply wait until the end to bring a legal claim against the district," the district argued in court papers.

Before the stadium, with locker rooms, bleachers and turnaround were built, there were two softball fields, several soccer fields, a track and field and tennis courts on the site. The existing parking lot was expanded from 282 parking spaces to 330 during the construction project, according to Director of Facilities Paul Maziarz. The bus turnaround is for athletes and is not used every day, he said in a deposition for the case.

He said the stadium lights, when they are used, are usually turned off by 10 p.m. In 2014, there were 25 night games for football and soccer. The public address system is used more infrequently than the lights, and usually for large sporting events such as varsity football, he said in his deposition. He also said the expanded parking lot did not cause significant changes in traffic, noise or fumes, and buses drop off and pick up athletes from the fields.

The stadium is used just 7 percent of the year, and not much at nighttime, Trapp said. It also is used by physical education classes during the day, and by the community, including the Special Olympics, he said.

"They’re not deaf to the concerns of the residents, which is why they have taken steps to limit the use of lights, limit the noise," Trapp said of the School Board. He asked if it is unreasonable to use the stadium for games about 28 days a year.

Neighbors said the light standards are tall and the public address system is loud.

"It's nuts," Weber said. "It's not the NFL."

An 8- or 10-foot privacy fence won't hide the lights, and fans who sit at the top of the bleachers will still be able to gaze into neighbors' houses. But it will give a measure of privacy to the neighbors. Residents were frustrated when a new chain-link fence was installed in 2014, instead of a privacy fence.

"I never thought that was an unreasonable request," Weber said of the fence.

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