Sides square off over planned Booster baseball fieldsThe Hudson Boosters plan to build a four field baseball complex in the town of Hudson has created the deepest division on the town board since the dog track controversy of the 1990s, according to Town Chairman Jeff Johnson.
By: Randy Hanson, Hudson Star-Observer
The Hudson Boosters plan to build a four field baseball complex in the town of Hudson has created the deepest division on the town board since the dog track controversy of the 1990s, according to Town Chairman Jeff Johnson.
After a contentious public hearing in early July, the town board voted 3-2 to amend the town’s zoning ordinance to remove a prohibition on lights and public address systems at “youth-oriented recreational facilities.”
By the same vote, the board granted a special exception for the Boosters’ planned ball fields on a 21-acre parcel on the east side of Hwy. 12, immediately north of the Trinity Family Center property on Badlands Road.
Supervisors Kernon Bast, Timothy Foster and Ken Kolbe supported the actions. Johnson and Supervisor Dave Ostby opposed the changes.
The town board’s approval doesn’t mean the Boosters - a volunteer organization that runs the Hudson area’s summer baseball and softball programs – can move forward with the plan, however.
“This isn’t over by a long shot,” Johnson said Monday morning at the conclusion of an interview in the office of his downtown Hudson auto body shop.
According to Johnson, the Hudson Town Hall on County A was full of opponents to allowing lighted ball fields with amplified sound systems on the night of the public hearing.
He said they presented letters from approximately 200 town residents who are against the change.
The opponents of the Booster complex include eight of the 11 nearby property owners (or seven of 10, depending on how you do the counting), he added.
And the opponents haven’t given up the fight.
Johnson said that in a nod to neighbors of the Hudson Soccer Association complex on County UU, the town board also removed county highways from the list of roads on which athletic fields can be built.
The intent, he said, was to relieve the soccer complex neighbors’ fears that lights will be erected there. But what the board did, according to Johnson, is make the soccer complex a nonconforming land use.
That, he said, presented a concern for the St. Croix County Board’s Community Development Committee, which reviews changes to the Town of Hudson’s zoning ordinance.
The town has its own zoning ordinance, but the county board must approve of any changes to it. The town can have more restrictive zoning regulations than the county, but not less restrictive regulations.
“It’s just another stumbling block that the developer wasn’t expecting,” Johnson said. “It’s going to get interesting as it keeps going forward, because there are some other potential hang-ups on this thing.”
For example, approval of the site plan for the Booster complex is on the agenda for the Aug. 2 town board meeting.
Meanwhile, the county board’s Community Development Committee has tabled approval of the town’s zoning amendment while it looks into the soccer complex nonconforming use issue.
Asked why he opposed the zoning amendment and granting the special exception for the Booster fields, Town Chairman Johnson said he didn’t think the actions were fair to neighboring property owners or consistent with past board decisions.
“I sure as hell wouldn’t want ten 80-foot light poles with 10, 12 lights on them next to me,” he said. “It’s one thing if it’s already there and you buy the land. OK, you knew it was there. Apparently, it doesn’t bother you. But to come and put that in when the ordinance didn’t allow it to begin with, I don’t think it’s fair.”
He said the question of lighted fields was also an issue when the soccer complex was built more than 10 years ago, and the town decided then not to allow them.
The town board reaffirmed that decision a couple of years ago when it rejected another proposal for lighted baseball fields just north of the planned Booster fields, Johnson added.
The other side
To Supervisor Kernon Bast, a strong supporter of the Boosters’ plans, the opponents’ arguments are overblown.
“The location here could not be better,” he said in a phone call Tuesday morning.
The site of the planned ball fields has a four-lane highway to the west, industrial land to the north, is screened from residences to the east and has church property on the south, he said.
Bast said people should be careful about what they ask for.
“If you don’t get these baseball fields, you’re going to wind up with commercial development on that corner,” he said.
He said the town board has already approved a concept plan for a Fleet Farm distribution center just north of the planned Booster fields.
The baseball fields would be used only five months of the year, and the lights would be on just one of the fields, he said. He said the lights would be turned off at 10 p.m.
Bast said between 30 and 40 percent of the youth participating in the Boosters’ baseball and softball programs reside in the town of Hudson.
“Wouldn’t it seem that we have a responsibility when the Boosters what to expand their facilities – which they are in dire need of – that the town of Hudson would bite the bullet and want to be one of their central locations?” he asked.
“Town of Hudson parents are running their kids into North Hudson two or three times a week to play ball,” he added.
Bast said he represents all of the approximately 8,000 residents of the town, not just 100 to 150 who turned out for the July 5 public hearing to oppose the Boosters’ plans.
If the question of whether the Booster fields should be allowed were put to a referendum, it would pass overwhelmingly, he said.
“The bottom line is, we are a community. We are a neighborhood,” Bast said. “Athletic fields are something that communities and neighborhoods have. We gravitate toward them. They’re like schools. It’s a place for the community to meet.”
He said neighbors also opposed the Hudson Soccer Association fields and the city’s Grandview Park softball fields before they were built. But now some of those same neighbors appreciate the fields, he said.
Many communities have lighted athletic fields in residential neighborhoods, he added. He said he recently attended youth baseball games at lighted fields in Woodbury, Minn., and Eagan, Minn., and nobody there was complaining about the fields.
Bast also noted that the Boosters’ $1.8 million baseball complex would be built without taxpayer support.
“If we don’t do this deal, there will be athletic fields in 20 years someplace in town, but they’ll be paid for by the taxpayers,” he said.
Bast said the Boosters have made an offer to purchase the site for $15,000 an acre, or a total of about $315,000.
Their plan is to do fundraising for three years and have the fields ready for play in five years, he said.
The opponents are jeopardizing the Boosters’ ability to meet purchase agreement deadlines, he said.
“People who don’t like the plans are trying to delay – use the bureaucracy to slow down the process,” he said. “They’re trying to strangle it now.”
Bast compared the political fighting to events in Madison and Washington, D.C.
“We do the same things the big boys do, just on a smaller scale,” he said.