Football league, neighbors battle over vacant field

September 09, 2002|by RICHARD BELISLE

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - The neighbors see the 9-acre field surrounded by their homes as an island of green that provides a respite from the hustle and bustle.

The adults running a community youth football league see an empty field of weeds they say has gone unused for 30 years as a prime site for a permanent gridiron for their games.

The Waynesboro Borough Council, which owns the field, is caught in the middle, trying to dodge the legal and political bullets being fired by both sides.


Nearly 100 homes make up the more than 40-year-old Wayne Gardens neighborhood in the borough's south end. Streets running through it include Fairview, Anthony, Park and Sunset avenues and Eighth Street. All touch the field at some point.

Some homeowners whose properties border the field have extended their lawns into it.

Others have created a community vegetable garden along one edge.

Kevin Grubbs, president of the Waynesboro Stallions, a youth football league involving more than 250 youngsters aged 7-13, said the league has been trying to build a football field in the vacant lot for more than two years.

Slowing the project are the objections of neighbors and a quirky set of deed restrictions that give some of the homeowners a say in what can be done with the field.

The key to the Stallions' success lies in the restrictive covenants on some deeds which ban commercial ventures in the field. The Stallions want to build a 100- by 50-foot building housing offices, restrooms, a storage area and a concession stand. They also want to charge admission to their games.

The borough bought the field in 1972 with federal Open Space grant money. Its use is limited to open space and recreation, said Borough Manager Lloyd Hamberger.

Hamberger said 51 percent of the homeowners with restrictive covenant in their deeds must sign legal agreements before the project can be built.

The restrictive deeds are spread among homeowners throughout the development. Not all property owners have the restrictions in their deeds, Hamberger said.

Grubbs, who works as a draftsman in the borough engineering office, said he expects to spend two days in the Franklin County Courthouse going through the deeds to identify them.

"The borough council needs to know the number of affected property owners to determine how many make up 51 percent," he said. "I hope to have them all checked in time for the next borough council meeting on Sept. 18."


The question that remains is who will go door-to-door to ask the affected homeowners to sign the agreements.

Grubbs said his organization won't do it because the league has no official standing to solicit legal documents.

"We're not going to do the legwork for the Stallions. It's still to be determined. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Hamberger said when asked if the council would appoint someone to collect the signatures.

The council met in executive session Wednesday night with Borough Solicitor D.L. Reichard II seeking legal advice. Hamberger said Reichard is drafting the agreement the homeowners will be asked to sign.

Whoever gets to collect the signatures won't have much success if they bang on the doors of Harold Martin, Elizabeth Walker or Frank Bittner. All three live on Anthony Avenue and all are opposed to the field.

Bittner's home borders the field. Martin and Walker live across the street.

"The residents here are really upset," Martin said.

He said his neighbors are worried about noise during football games, parking problems and their property values.

"We want a public meeting on this," he said.

The neighbors successfully fought off an attempt by an organization to build a baseball field five years ago, he said.

Grubbs said league games can draw up to 1,000 people. The league, which has 10 teams, pays $1,200 a year to the Waynesboro Area School District to rent the high school football field for its games.

Stallion teams play youth league teams from Franklin and Adams counties, Grubbs said.

"We want a park with playgrounds, walking paths and picnic tables. Not a football field," Martin said.

"Most people in this neighborhood are elderly," Walker said. "I moved here in 1991 because it was a peaceful, quiet neighborhood and I don't want to see it disturbed. Let's keep it green."

Martin said the residents are circulating a new petition to present to the borough council expressing their opposition.

"We beat it five years ago and we will beat it again," he said.

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