By J. Patrick O’Leary
There is no joy in Anderson Park: mighty baseball has struck out.
Despite impassioned testimony by Wheat Ridge’s baseball community and an attempt to delay the vote till November, Wheat Ridge City Council on Oct. 23 voted 4-3 to approve the Anderson Park Master Plan recommended by the Parks and Recreation Commission, which replaces the existing baseball diamond with a multipurpose field.
At its Sept. 20 meeting the commission recommended approval of its preferred plan, but at council’s Oct. 16 study session a consensus of council members asked for an alternate plan to retain the existing, 50-plus-year-old baseball field – the only regulation diamond in Wheat Ridge – and replace its aging lights when funding became available.
The flip vote a week later was the result of District III representative Tim Fitzgerald changing his mind, as well as District I representative Janeece Hoppe (absent from the study session) showing up and voting against the change. Additionally, District II representative Kristi Davis, a ballfield proponent, was absent from the regular session.
No other elements of the $5.4 million preferred renovation plan were challenged by council members or the members of the public speaking at the meeting.
The renovation of Anderson Park is one of four “Investing 4 the Future” projects funded through the November 2016 2E ballot initiative, which raised the city’s sales tax by a half cent.
In March, council awarded a contract to MIG, Inc. to prepare a concept plan for the park, including concept designs for improvements to the Anderson Building and outdoor pool bathhouse.
Although the commission argued the preferred plan was the result of an extensive public input process and would meet demands for an additional grassy area for play and festival events, youth classes and athletic league practices, baseball proponents claimed the process neglected them and the would erase a part of Wheat Ridge’s history.
The contest opened with District II representative Zachary Urban moving to delay the vote until the next council meeting so Davis could be present to vote. After Parks and Rec Director Joyce Manwaring indicated a delay might jeopardize the park opening in time for the August 2019 Carnation Festival, Hoppe noting people were waiting to comment, and Mayor Joyce Jay noting a “healthy quorum” was present, the motion failed 3-4; Fitzgerald, Hoppe, District III representative George Pond and District IV representative Genevieve Wooden voted no.
Staff presented the details of the plan and fielded questions for 50 minutes before 35 minutes of public comment began.
Don Ryan, residing on Everitt Street, six house away from the baseball field, told council that baseball was the soul of American sports, and said there many soccer fields and asked “so why pay big dollars to take it out?”
Wheat Ridge High School baseball coach Adam Miller (of Golden) said Anderson field is where the freshmen practice.
“Without this facility, with or without lights, I’m not sure where they would play,” said Miller. “It’s a great facility and I’d hate to lose that.”
Pomona High School head baseball coach Eric Mapps (of Arvada) echoed Miller’s comments and urged council to retain the baseball field.
“When a field like that goes away, it’s hard to get it back.”
“There are three on council who came to me for your vote…now I come to you for your vote,” to save the ballfield, said Rolly Sorrentino of Wheat Ridge, asking why there was no outreach to the baseball community, and stating that the three soccer fields in front of his Teller Street house were not used much.
Another Wheat Ridge resident, and a Lakewood resident who stages baseball tournaments, spoke in favor of keeping the ballfied.
Three Wheat Ridge residents – Guy Nahmiach, Brittany Fitzsimmons and Rachel Hultin – spoke in favor of keeping the original plan, warning council against ignoring the public who did participate in the process.
“Not only have you insulted those citizens, you also put candidates in upcoming elections in an awkward position,” Nahmiach said. “No one in the community asked for baseball, that’s why it’s not included in the plan.”
Fitzsimmons said in the past the city has created community groups for input, only to ignore them, and that that council was attempting to change, at the last minute, what the community worked hard to create.
“If we ask citizens to participate in the public process and disregard, it will create apathy,” Hultin said.
Council members asked questions for a dozen minutes before Mathews moved to amend the resolution, to keep the ballfield.
“This was an open process, all the way along,” said Wooden. She said the plan would allow the greatest number of people to use the park.
Pond said he believed the public process was fairly executed, but did not believe single use of a ballfield was “a prudent choice for the extraordinary demands on our facilities.”
Hoppe also defended the public process, and said a single-use baseball field was “no longer a prudent use of the park.”
Fitzgerald confessed that he responded emotionally at the study session in asking to keep the ballfield, but had changed his mind since. Although he expressed reservations about the process, he believed the city tried to be inclusive, and that it must honor the choices of those who showed up to the meetings and not delay the project.
Urban said that the baseball users were shut out of the process, and that he was concerned that no replacement field would be found.
Duran said she respected the public process, but that more voices needed to be heard, and their concerns should not be dismissed.
Mathews suggested that the city had a predetermined outcome for the public process, and that had it informed users of the ballfield, there would have been more participation.
Jay said she was concerned that the city staff and their opinions were not being respected.
The motion to keep the ballfield failed 3-4, with Fitzgerald, Hoppe, Pond and Wooden against. The following motion to approve preferred plan passed 4-3, with Mathew Urban and Duran opposing.