For over two decades, residents of Cherrywood and Duck Pond roads have been in conflict with Friends Academy, a K-12 private school on the border of Glen Cove and Locust Valley. While most of the school’s neighbors agree that it is a great asset to the community, problems regularly arise when it looks to expand and build on its property.
That was why residents were upset to hear that despite their protests, Friends Academy’s request to alter its soccer field was approved at a Glen Cove Planning Board hearing on Nov. 19. The changes include resurfacing the field with artificial turf, installing two additional bleachers to the pair already there, adding fencing and plantings along the perimeter, paving entrance areas and improving the drainage system. Friends initially wanted to install floodlights as well, but that is no longer part of the plan. Jeff Forchelli, an attorney representing the school, said it withdrew plans for the lights after several meetings with local residents made it clear that there was major opposition to the idea.
“Friends Academy held those meeting to be courteous and to try to be a good neighbor,” Forchelli said.
But residents still fear that Friends will try to apply for floodlights later, now that its plan has been approved, citing the school’s current use of portable floodlights as a sign of what’s to come.
Elizabeth Wootten, who hosted a meeting of local homeowners about the project, address-ed the planning board at a hearing on Nov. 19. The portable lights on the field, Wootten said, light up her bedroom in the evenings. “The lights are so intrusive,” she said. “You don’t need permanent lights if you can just use these temporary ones.”
Chris Semlies, Friends Academy’s director of facilities and capital projects, said that the portable lights were only used twice in the spring and twice in the fall, and explained that they are borrowed from the City of Glen Cove and cannot be used often. He also refuted many residents’ characterization of the project as the creation of a “stadium.” Semlies said the project was merely the school’s attempt to revitalize a muddied field that has grown unsafe for the school’s teams.
He added that residents were overestimating the size of the crowds that a refurbished field would draw. Residents have claimed that about 300 people show up at night games. Semlies said that each existing set of bleachers fits 40 people, and that a crowd of 120 spectators was a “blockbuster turnout” for the school.
Stephen Limmer, an attorney representing the Cherrywood Property Owners Association, was not persuaded by Semlies, and said the project would transform a “meadow” in the community into a stadium that would affect local property values. The traffic and noise the new field would generate, Limmer said, could also have an adverse impact on the abutting North Shore Wildlife Sanctuary, which had previously donated part of its land to the school.
“We’re not specifically opposed to the project,” Robert Dean, president of the sanctuary, told the planning board, “but I would not like to see the unique ambiances of our neighborhood affected.”
Limmer claimed that because Friends planned to rent the field to outside groups, the true motivation behind the revitalization was a monetary one. “This is a business venture for Friends Academy that will destroy the character of the neighborhood,” he said.
Semlies rejected that claim, and said that the school already rents the field to local youth and sports programs. Because the floodlights were removed from the plan, he added, there would be fewer hours of operation at the field and therefore fewer opportunities to rent it out, since as many as nine of the school’s teams would get priority use in the fall and spring.
Although members of the planning board said that they, too, were worried about the rental of the field, its chairman, Thomas Scott, said that the board does not have any say in how the school operates.
With the approval of the board, Friends will work with the Glen Cove Building Department to create a final plan for the project, which could include restrictions that the school would have to follow.
Despite the board’s approval of the plan, Semlies said he was upset when he learned more about the deep divisions between community members and the school. He was especially saddened, he said, when Brendan Wootten, Elizabeth’s husband, described incidents when beer cans littered his yard after games and players urinated in neighbors’ yards.
Semlies said this was the first he had heard these stories, and that he would work to stop it from happening again. He also promised several residents that he would try to have fencing installed along the school’s border with neighboring houses to stop students and parents from using private property as a shortcut to the school.
“I don’t like hearing about these things,” Semlies said. “We want to be good neighbors.”