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When Kevin Franklin stood up at the Jan. 8 selectmen’s meeting to address disturbances at town-owned ball fields, he inadvertently highlighted two pending articles to be decided at the March 23 annual Town Meeting.
Town Meeting’s warrant has six citizen’s petitions, including two that would likely impact softball leagues in town. If approved by voters, Article 18 would establish a policy to limit the use of artificial lights at recreational locations between dusk and 10 p.m. Article 19 would amend Chapter 58.3 of the town’s bylaws by establishing new requirements and limitations for drinking alcohol on public property.
Selectmen will take up four of the six citizen’s petitions when they meet at 9 a.m., March 23 at the Abbot School, to decide whether to recommend Articles 24 and 25. The board’s agenda includes a “reconsideration of Articles 18 and 20.”
In the spotlight is the VFW ball field on West Prescott Street where the Over 30 Softball League plays into the night during the season and then gathers in the parking area to socialize. The group has selectmen’s permission to drink alcohol.
Franklin’s Village View Road neighborhood and the field’s abutters are most affected by the activities at the VFW field.
Franklin said his house is right behind home plate.
“I did like the idea of the 10 o’clock cut off, especially for the lights…But I think my larger concern is the alcohol. You do notice if you walk through the park there does seem to be a significant amount sometimes of bottles or cans…,” said Franklin.
Selectmen are caught between the league players who want to continue their tradition of playing games at the VFW field until at least 10 p.m. on some nights, and the neighbors, who want to prohibit the consumption of alcohol on public property and turn off the field lights at 10 p.m.
Article 18, the lights out citizen’s petition, was filed by Kacy Caviston, chairman of the Parks and Recreation Commission. Caviston also lobbied selectmen to retract the permission a different board granted in 2014 to allow softball players to drink in the VFW parking area.
“If it was up to the Recreation Commission, we’d have a no-alcohol policy and there would be no alcohol there,” he said.
To appease the neighbors, league members offered to: use a timer that turns off lights at 10 p.m. or 11 p.m., depending on the night; to carry out the recyclable bottles and cans brought in by league members; to eliminate all games with a start time of 9 p.m. to ensure lights go out at 10 p.m. and players depart the field by 10:30 p.m. on most nights.
“We’re willing to continue to try to compromise to try to keep the peace here…,” said League member John Bodi
The neighborhood residents have extended an olive branch, as well. They are offering to allow alcohol on public property at three events per year, per group, excluding such venues as the Parish Center for the Arts and East Boston Camps which hold or sponsor parties and receptions with alcohol.
“The only limits are that any organization only gets one permit per month and that any particular venue only gets one permit per week,” said Ken Wilmer, a Village View Road resident who has emerged as a spokesman for the group. Wilmer noted that the town’s bylaw allowing alcohol consumption on public property changed in 2014.
“Prior to 2014 there was no permission to consume alcohol on the field,” he said.
John McLaughlin, who filed the citizen’s petition for Article 19, chastised selectmen on Jan. 8.
“People do get louder when they consume alcohol,” he said, relating one late night incident when someone in the VFW parking lot began shouting obscenities.
“It’s offensive,” said McLaughlin.
Franklin expressed concern over people drinking and driving.
“…it’s a little surprising that we would have an area in a family-centric community that does allow the open container. It does potentially invite itself for bad things to happen either at the park or as people get back on the road,” he said.
The town’s attorney, Gregg Corbo, of Boston-based KP Law, declined to say whether the town would be liable if an accident occurred in relation to alcohol consumption. He suggested town officials check with the town’s insurer to ensure the correct amount of coverage.
“Given the fact‐specific nature of the inquiry,” Corbo stated, “I cannot offer a conclusive opinion as to the town’s potential exposure to liability if it allows the consumption of alcohol on its property. That being said, it would appear as a matter of common knowledge that alcohol consumption heightens the risk that harm will occur.”
Town Manager Jodi Ross did not immediately return an email seeking comment.
Selectman Mark Kost, a former league member, has given his support to the softball players.
“For over 40 years, and likely 1,000 players from this town, the man’s Over 30 Softball League has been a family — a family of players, a family of families, where children grow up and watch their dads compete, and then shake hands and socialize with one another…,and a family of new friendships which are made and are everlasting,” he said.
Annual Town Meeting opens at 10 a.m. on Saturday, March 23 at the Abbot School, 25 Depot St.
Follow Joyce Pellino Crane on Twitter @[email protected].