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The Buffalo News (New York)
Sean Kelley first noticed the disturbance to the pastoral land behind his Orchard Park home in mid-June.
"We woke up to bulldozers, literally, after Father's Day, that Monday," the Ferndale Drive resident said.
He started a petition the next weekend after he found out football fields were planned for the 36-acre parcel.
Ferndale residents and others use the land for hiking and biking, and they have fashioned trails through the grass and trees.
Orchard Park is home to the Buffalo Bills, the highly regarded Orchard Park High School Quakers and the Little Loop teams that feed the high school team. But not everyone is crazy about football, especially when it could be in their backyard.
The parcel off Webster Road backs up to homes on Ferndale, and it has been owned by the Town of Orchard Park for years and targeted for future recreation.
The future came sooner than expected for some. Town Supervisor Patrick J. Keem sent a letter to residents in late June telling them a football complex with four fields would be built on the property. There also would be a concession stand and press box, as well as a parking lot.
Now, the supervisor says it will only be two fields: a practice field and a playing field, which would have the lights that Little Loop parents paid to install on the existing field. There also would be bleachers and restrooms. The fields would replace the two Little Loop football fields at the town's Brush Mountain recreation area on California Road.
"There is no plan to put four fields in there," Keem told The Buffalo News. "Right now we're planning two, believe me."
'The right to develop'
There were no plans to move the Little Loop football field when the $16 million Community Activities Center at Brush Mountain was proposed. The idea was for players to walk off the field near the center and use the locker rooms.
But it was discovered about five months ago that the new building has to be shifted to another spot on the recreation area because of wetlands, according to town Councilman Michael Sherry.
"Part of the building is right in the middle of the football field," Keem said.
Ground where the new building will sit has to be raised 18 inches, and the size of the new building was reduced by 5,000 square feet to 59,000 square feet to save money to make up for the extra cost, Sherry said.
Keem said different Brush Mountain locations were considered for the fields, but none of them worked.
"We have a challenge, where do we put a football field," Keem said.
Of two parcels owned by the town, the Webster Road site is the only one with enough room, he said.
"We have the right to develop that property," the supervisor said. "We own it."
Proposal from residents
The fields would be used from August through November by the youth football teams, Keem said. He wants to put a playground there, too. He also said the town is "only considering it, we don't have a site plan yet."
That's what worries neighbors, who said they have had trouble getting answers from town officials. Is it two fields, or four? Will every tree be cut down? What about drainage? Where will the wildlife go? Won't this increase traffic on North Buffalo Road, which is already busy? Is it zoned properly?
Residents want to preserve the land as it is, as a greenway for walking, biking, jogging and similar activities that protect the wildlife living on the land.
Town highway crews built a road out of millings at Webster Road, Keem said. He said the town has an excavation permit and is taking fill from Brush Mountain to the Webster Road location. The estimated 14,000 cubic yards is from the construction of two retention ponds that will help alleviate flooding problems in the Bussendorfer Road area, he said.
Rocklin G. Maday of Saville Drive, who would look out over the new fields, said neighbors had no notice until after the town started moving earth. He also has another concern.
"The problem is here, we're very secluded," he said.
He sometimes has problems with uninvited youth playing in his pond. He's afraid that would get worse with more people using the field.
Residents have proposed a different layout, and have a meeting planned with town officials in an effort to compromise.
"Some kind of hybrid might work in terms of keeping some natural wildlife corridor, not to manicure the whole thing down to every blade of grass," Kelley said.
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