Midtown Raleigh News

Ballfield for the disabled stirs conflict in North Raleigh

A local youth league’s plan to build a baseball field for special needs children in North Raleigh has spurred opposition from nearby residents who call the field a poor fit for their community.

The Miracle League of the Triangle says the soft-surface field would be designed for children with disabilities ages 5 and up. The children, many of whom use wheelchairs and walkers, are paired with volunteer “buddies” who help team members swing the bats and travel around the bases.

The league operates a similar field at Adams Elementary School in Cary. A second location is needed to keep pace with growth, parents and volunteers say.

But residents of Carrington at Wakefield Plantation say the proposed complex would bring disruptive noise, traffic and overhead lights to their subdivision, which is part of the Wakefield development just north of Interstate 540.

The conflict has turned ugly. A group of Wakefield residents showed up at a Miracle League game May 26 in Cary to hand out fliers warning of power lines near the proposed North Raleigh site.

A website asks people to sign a petition on behalf of Carrington under the heading, “STOP!! Children from being exposed to High Voltage Power Lines.”

Last week, a Carrington resident asked the Raleigh City Council to block the league’s ballfield plan. The field would bring heavy traffic to the neighborhood’s sole entrance road, Alan Hubatka told council members.

The zoning at the site allows for a ballfield. Raleigh officials must approve a site plan that involves technical aspects such as flood control and access routes. Council members did not respond to Hubatka’s comments. No plan has been submitted to the city for approval, City Manager Russell Allen said.

Neighbors are concerned about noise from the 14-acre complex, which also calls for a training shelter, small fieldhouse and parking. Players choose theme songs to be played over the loudspeakers when they walk to the plate.

The field, Hubatka said, would make more sense at the YMCA’s Camp Kanata in Wake Forest or in nearby Franklin County.

“We want everybody to know that we are not against the YMCA, the Miracle League, young people or people with special needs,” Hubatka said.

The resistance has left families of special needs children questioning why they are not wanted, said Joe Dew, whose 14-year-old son, Bryson, plays in the league.

“There’s not many places in his life where he’s celebrated,” Dew said. “This is a place where he gets to hang out with people in similar situations. It’s like a safe haven for this little window of time.”

Site has advantages

Miracle League organizers said they scouted 10 sites before settling on the North Raleigh location. The nearby Kerr Family YMCA owns the land and agreed to make it available at no charge through a partnership with the league.

Long-term, the Y has talked about adding a multipurpose field, playground and splash fountain area, but the plan remains conceptual, said Stacey Craft, associate branch director.

“We’re not at any stage to move forward with that,” she said. “We do feel this partnership with the Miracle League will be a great benefit to the community. We’re excited about the fact we’re able to press forward, and we’d like to do that in the least intrusive way.”

The property is configured in a way that would allow for parking just a few steps from the field – a key need for children with physical challenges, said Brad McGinnis, a Cary commercial real estate developer and Miracle League board member.

The goal is to open the field by fall 2013, McGinnis said. Board members plan to raise about $1 million in donations for the facility.

‘Major League moment’

The 22-team league serves about 320 players, with another dozen or so on waiting lists for the various age groups, said Traci Brown, the league’s executive director.

Games take place Friday evenings and throughout the day Saturdays during eight-week seasons in the spring and fall. The music is part of an effort to make the players feel special, Brown said.

“It’s a grand entrance,” she said. “We want to create a world-class experience so that when players step up to the plate, they feel like they’re having a Major League moment.”

The league has held two meetings with neighbors in hopes of allaying their concerns.

“We’ve looked at shifting the entrance,” McGinnis said. “We’ll look at anything and everything we can. Whether we’ll address every concern to their satisfaction, I don’t know that we can do that.”