Committee’s turf restrictions may be on shaky legal ground
Late-night soccer, football and baseball on all sports fields near homes could be scrutinized by city hall in light of the controversial turf field project at Immaculata High School.In a 6-2 vote Tuesday, council’s planning committee approved rare restrictions on the recently built artificial turf field at Immaculata, ordering the lights to be turned off by 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and by 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. There is also a restriction on field activity before 9 a.m. on the weekend.Councillors Jan Harder and Tim Tierney voted against the restrictions at Immaculata.City-run sports fields have a lights-off curfew of 11 p.m.The Ottawa Catholic School Board, which partnered with the Ottawa Footy Sevens to build the $2-million field, is in a good position to challenge the committee’s decision at the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal. The city ’s own planning lawyer conceded the city has an “uphill battle” defending the decision against an appeal.The Footy Sevens — a recreational soccer organization that paid for the construction of the lighted artificial field to replace the banged-up grass field — can collect revenue from renting out the field in the evening, in addition to running its own leagues. The compressed operating window could have a major impact on its deal with the school board.Chris Surgeoner, co-owner and administrator of the Footy Sevens, said the organization has made efforts to reduce the impact to the community, including designing a non-intrusive lighting system and using lower-decibel electronic whistles.The Footy Sevens organization has been preparing to start league play on the new gated field. If the soccer club knew there would be a “drastic unilateral cut” in operating hours specific to the field at Immaculata, it would have been a game-changer in making a deal with the school board, Surgeoner said.“We would have never embarked on the project or made the investment,” he said.The school board thought it was a huge win-win for Immaculata, which gained a great sports field and rubberized track for students, and the larger sporting community.Fred Chrystal, the school board’s superintendent for planning and facilities, told councillors that the school board was “consistently informed” by the city that it didn’t need a site-plan application for the artificial turf field.The city was wrong. Both the school board and the city didn’t know there was an existing site plan governing the field’s grass composition until someone from the community found the 1993 document and brought it to the attention of the city, whose planners didn’t see it registered in their computer system.Awkwardly, the city had to kickstart a site-plan consultation process as the artificial field was under construction. The neighbouring community has for months criticized the school board for not having a proper consultation.Joanne Lostracco, who lives on nearby Glenora Street, lamented the “radical change” that has come to her neighbourhood. The field is within a few feet of people’s homes, she said.Immaculata’s neighbours said they won’t stop pushing for more mitigation measures, which could include sound barriers.Capital Coun. David Chernushenko said that he’ll bring an inquiry to council on Wednesday that will touch on operating hours for sports fields. He said he has received questions from other communities interested in similar operating restrictions for neighbouring fields.
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