Ward Street Grass Roots

A Hingham organization fighting for rational use of our Town’s resources

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Current aerial view of the field, woods and meadow & Plan 1, since revised. See the latest plan below.

The Town of Hingham has been presented with a generous offer by private citizens who comprise the Ward Street Turf Field Fund (WSTFF) to donate the funds necessary to build two synthetic turf athletic fields on 13 acres of town-owned property on Ward Street.  The current plan call for two fields, to be placed in the street-side Margetts field and in the adjacent open meadow; the entire turfed surface would be surrounded by a chain-link fence. A  paved drive would lead around the field to gravel parking lots with space for 200 cars: 1 lot in the Margetts field area, and one larger one situated between the two fields, where there is currently a stand of trees. There would be bleacher seating for 200, and if lights are approved, a concession building that included public bathroom facilities.

The Recreation Commission would be responsible for the management, maintenance, and rental of both fields, on behalf of the Town. The WSTFF business plan proposes that revenues from rental of the fields to both Hingham and non-Hingham sports clubs of youth and adults, along with fees from concession stands, will cover the annual costs to operate and maintain the turf fields.

The WSTFF business plan also allocates $400,000 for a replacement fund to replace the fields in approximately 10 years when they wear out. As you will read below, Grassroots disputes this figure, along with much of their business plan.

The Hingham Board of Selectmen has released the plans for the proposed Ward Street turf fields to the other town boards for permitting. It will be the responsibility of the Conservation Commission, the Planning and Zoning Boards, the Recreation Commission, the Board of Health and the Advisory Committee to scrutinize the plans to ensure the project is in the best interest of the town of Hingham and its residents.

The Ward Street Grassroots organization is a caring and concerned group of people from throughout Hingham who have the best interests of our children, the land, wildlife, and the town at heart. We have examined the Turf Field project and identified the following primary issues: (for details, visit each issue’s web page)

Conservation – There are several major environmental concerns that the Conservation Commission is studying. We are most concerned about the impact of 13 acres of fenced artificial turf fields and gravel parking lots on wildlife, on wetlands and on the groundwater. Large tracts of trees will be cut down. The proposed fields and driveway touch the 50′ buffer zone of the wetlands in several places, the ground is very permeable, and these boundaries shift. The plan encroaches on the 200′ boundary from the mean annual high water line of the Plymouth River. Toxic runoff and leeching from crumb rubber fields along with the fill itself must not impact Plymouth River, Cushing Pond, the South Hingham aquifer, or the surrounding private wells.

Here is the latest plan (click to enlarge)

Health – Related to conservation issues with the crumb rubber used to make the turf are the health implications for children playing on fields that release toxic particles, airborne chemicals and dust. Many states are now revising their previous whole-hearted acceptance of turf fields in light of new studies. Why would we want children and animals coming into intense contact with materials that are disposed of as hazardous waste? Plus, these fields can heat up to unsafe temperatures on warm days, leading to hot zones environmentally and heat exhaustion in young athletes. And, there are 63 private drinking water wells in the area; the water quality must not be compromised.

Finances – We believe this project, despite the generous gift from the donors, will not meet its projected annual revenue stream and will incur more expenses than estimated. Plus there will be a major financial impact when the fields need to be replaced every 10 years at a cost of $1.2 million. The town will be forced to pay for these shortfalls.

Recreational Field Overlay District – As a key component of their vision and their business plan, the proponents will ask Town Meeting to vote to create a Recreational Field Overlay District on the land on Ward Street specifically for this project, so they can obtain an exception to the town by-laws governing outdoor lighting. Granting a recreational field overlay district will set a precedent that would allow the overlay concept to be used on future projects in the town.

Lighting – The Overlay District would allow 80′ lights “to be used to illuminate fields for active recreational use.” The plan calls for eight 80′ light posts with 16 heads on each post and twelve 17′ single-light posts in the parking lots.  The glow would be seen for miles, every night from March to November.  Many neighboring towns with turf fields have to leave lights on all night to combat vandalism. Lights lead to a projected 3000+ hours of use per year (10 times the current use): too much activity for this quiet section of town.

Traffic – We are very concerned about the traffic impact on the already dangerous intersections of Cushing & Ward and Ward & High Streets, and added stress on Cushing & Main. Peak usage occurs during afternoons, evening rush hour and on Saturdays, when these roads are already stressed. Based on projected usage, the continual impact of 200+ cars coming and going along with the hazard of people trying to park on Ward Street will create unsafe conditions for cars, pedestrians and emergency vehicles.

Zoning – This project, as it is presented, changes natural habitat that is currently designated Open Space into an active commercial recreational sports usage in the midst of the rural, residential-zoned Ward Street area. This area is the last parcel of public open space in the South Hingham area, serving a rural-residential area squeezed by recent major developments such as Black Rock, Linden Ponds, and Boston Golf. A condominium housing project on Ward St. was recently withdrawn because it did not fit in with the character of the neighborhood. The same characterization should apply to the artificial turf fields.

Accepting financial gifts and gifting of town-owned land – As well-intentioned as the donors are, this project represents the town of Hingham forfeiting valuable open space that we already own. If the town accepts this donation, they are setting a precedent for other projects in the future that will utilize open spaces or other resources owned by the taxpayers. The taxpayers of Hingham are being asked to gift town-owned land for a very specific purpose that serves a limited number of residents. This event would definitely set a precedent for how we utilize our assets.

Bubble and concession stands – The conditions for this project, as outlined by the Board of Selectmen, leave the opportunity for the Ward Street Turf Fields Fund to apply for a variance for the sports bubble and concession stands in the future. So, they may be off the table today, but not tomorrow. In that case, this open, accessible serene landscape would truly be converted to a commercial sports facility, as originally intended.

We hope that you can see that these issues have the potential to affect the quality of life throughout Hingham. Whether you care mostly about how we take care of our environment, about the health effects on our youngest residents, about the precedents set on control of town resources and zoning and land-use issues, or about how we choose to use our precious town assets, especially in precarious financial times – this project has raised important concerns for all of us.

The Ward Street Grassroots has been making our voices heard and will continue to attend the meetings necessary to make sure these issues are examined by the town boards. We will speak up at Town Meeting. The process of addressing all the issues will take time and energy; we need your support and your help.

Please take the time to learn more about these issues, talk with your friends and neighbors across Hingham about the project, and get involved by writing letters about your concerns to all of the town boards and committees. We are all in this together – we all need to hear from you.

Thank you,

Ward Street Grassroots