A weekly meeting of the Planning Board on Thursday, July 24, started at 7:30 pm in the northern first-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Reviews of four property improvement applications were scheduled. A proposed change to Parsons Field–as it has been called since 1969–proved controversial and took most of the meeting. It was where legendary Kent St. resident George Herman “Babe” Ruth, Jr., sometimes practiced in the early twentieth century.
Parsons Field: Northeastern University has owned Parsons Field since 1930 and uses it as a sports stadium. The largest use, for the former Huskies football team, ended when Northeastern disbanded the team early in 2010. The major university uses now are baseball and soccer. Brookline High School has used the field in many prior years, though not recently, for home football games.
The 5-1/2 acre field extends between Kent and Harrison Sts. and takes up much of the block from Aspinwall Ave. to Kent Sq. Houses along Aspinwall Ave. and Kent Sq. abut the field, as do one each on Kent St. and on Harrison St. Other dwellings are directly across Kent and Harrison Sts. The field and most of the houses are in a T-5 two-family zone. Dwellings east of Kent St. are in an M-1.0 low-rise apartment zone. In some places, one finds “7 acres” quoted for the field size, but that seems to include parts of abutting land.
Plans for a pavilion: Last winter, Northeastern began plans to build a pavilion for its baseball diamond, with home plate near the southeast corner of the field, toward Kent St. and Aspinwall Ave. Current specifications show 409 seats, about 100 more than provided now in metal bleachers.
There are also nearly 1,800 seats in metal bleachers along the northern edge of the field, toward Kent Sq. Those are to remain for use during soccer games. A field house bordering Kent St., used for both baseball and soccer, will also remain. Parsons is a fairly compact field for baseball. Fly balls and foul balls sometimes reach neighboring houses, and outfielders risk colliding with soccer bleachers.
The field once had about 7,000 seats in open stands. Over the past 50 years, there have been four prior renovations. In a somewhat controversial renovation of 1972, Northeastern installed artificial turf, moved the baseball home plate from the northeast to the southeast corner and reduced seating. The field house was renovated in 1992. The most recent renovation replaced older artificial turf with FieldTurf.
Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., a Brookline-based lawyer, Precinct 16 town meeting member and former chair of the Board of Selectmen, represented Northeastern–which also sent two administrators and two representatives from its architect. Mr. Allen said Northeastern would welcome Brookline High School’s football team again. He said there would be extended netting to catch more stray baseballs and claimed the pavilion would “improve the streetscape along Kent St.”
Board member Steven Heikin later took exception, saying the “back side [of the pavilion] is pretty industrial.” Mark Zarrillo, the board’s chair, asked about lighting. A Northeastern representative said field lighting had been replaced this year. All except two fixtures operated in common, and those two would stay on about 30 minutes after the others went off. Mr. Zarrillo questioned whether that provided adequate security.
Polly Selkoe, assistant director for regulatory planning at the Planning Department, said that the planning review had been triggered by expansion of seating area. As a nonprofit educational institution, Northeastern has a right to use the field for educational purposes, but Brookline has rights related to dimensions of structures, public safety and nuisance control.
Concerns and objections: Many residents attended the Planning Board meeting to express concerns. The most frequent were about traffic and parking during events. Nancy Daly, a member of the Board of Selectmen, said, “Traffic and parking are serious concerns…streets are narrow…buses obstruct traffic.” She was “glad to hear Brookline’s team can play there again.”
Capt. Michael Gropman, who heads the Brookline Police traffic division, said he had many concerns and complained that he and Transportation Director Todd Kirrane “found out about this only six days ago.” The Northeastern management held a well advertised meeting for neighborhood residents in mid-spring, but there had apparently been no similar effort to contact Brookline departments.
Marla Engle, a Harrison St. resident, said that parking has been inadequate for events, that use means both frequency and intensity, and that the overall impact is increasing. Another Harrison St. resident complained about noise. Some of the worst, he said, is extremely loud music during practice sessions.
Responding to questions from board members Robert Cook and Steven Heikin, Northeastern representatives said that use for soccer was stable but use for baseball was increasing. They made vague statements about noise. Mr. Cook asked, “In terms of good neighbor relations, can it be confined?” There was no clear answer.
The board found too many unresolved issues to reach a decision and will reconsider the case at a meeting scheduled for August 14. Northeastern representatives said they will work with Capt. Gropman and Mr. Kirrane on traffic plans.
– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 25, 2014
Parsons Field to debut new surface this weekend, Northeastern University, August 18, 2010, with some recent history of the field