MATTHEWS – Town commissioners have yet to make a decision on the Brace YMCA fields.
Because the Weddington Road interchange project will take away seven acres of field space from the YMCA, leaders from the YMCA approached the town in January with a proposal to relocate two youth playing fields. At the time, town staff recommended the addition of a trail to connect the fields to the neighborhood on Fair Forest Drive.
Residents expressed concerns about the changes. They were worried about noise and privacy.
The Matthews planning board was not in favor of this plan, recommending its denial. At the commissioners’ meeting Feb. 10, town staff came to the commissioners with a revised plan. In the revised plan, a windscreen would be added to the fences to increase privacy, a sidewalk from the parking lot to the fields would be added, lighting at the YMCA would be reduced and cut off by 9 p.m. and there would be no amplified sound.
At the Feb. 10 meeting, Planning Director Jay Camp said town staff’s previous suggestion for a trail along the swim buffer to the back of the property was considered too intrusive to the surrounding neighborhood by the planning board. A less intrusive option, Camp said, is to instead route it outside of the fencing, along the property line and the stormwater pond, and eventually end along the ramps at the Weddington Road interchange. Camp said town staff recommended the trail be an easement instead.
Commissioner John Urban clarified that the board was now discussing an easement, which had only been proposed after the planning board’s deliberation.
Mayor John Higdon said though the easement was said to be less intrusive, he had still received negative feedback from residents and did not feel comfortable voting on the plan with the easement.
Urban wanted to remind the board and neighbors in attendance that they were making a decision that could benefit Matthews in the future.
“A physical path is injurious to the adjacent neighborhood, but the fact is… that in the future as the neighborhood changes, as younger families move in, the needs and wants of my grandchildren are going to be a lot different than my needs or wants today,” Urban said. “I just know over the past 20 years in the Town of Matthews, the prudence of at least saving some easement some place really accommodates the town down the road. Had we not done that, we would lose opportunities.”
Urban said he wanted the town to be able to provide for future generations. He also said the addition of an easement gives the opportunity for more connectivity if that is what future residents are looking for.
“I think it would appease the homeowners today that there’s not going to be anybody tracing through, but the homeowners two decades from now may be looking for that linkage, and there’s that opportunity,” Urban said. “So, if it means reaching back out to the neighbors and just talking about this to get a little more comfort level, I’m willing to do that.”
Matthews resident David Raichle, who lives on Fair Forest Drive, approached the board and thanked Urban and mayor pro tem Renee Garner for discussing the matter with him outside the meeting. Raichle previously spoke out at the meeting in January because he was concerned about public safety.
At the most recent meeting, Raichle said that while an easement could be a good compromise, he was concerned about the impact it would have on the trees in the area, which he said would defeat the planning purpose of the buffer.
Urban said the town has been accommodating to the surrounding trees in the past.
“I do know that we’ve had easements, we’ve put trails in, we’ve been sensitive to the trees, we’ve been selective in our pruning and have moved around it and made room for more pleasant environments,” Urban said.
Urban originally proposed to defer the decision to March 9, but Brace YMCA Executive Director Ben Pinegar expressed a sense of urgency to the board, asking them to make their decision sooner.
Pinegar said he is “more than willing” to discuss the easement with neighbors, but urged the board to expedite the process so the organization could begin planning.
“We are losing fields,” Pinegar said. “We have soccer season starting very soon. I recognize the request to have pedestrian access and I’m more than willing to have the conversation, but if we continue to defer the vote, we are jeopardizing our ability to recreate the fields that we’re losing.”
Town attorney Charles Buckley told the board an easement could be added at any time and was not essential to the decision-making process, so they could make their decision that night if they wanted to. However, Buckley said the only problem is that if the board does not make the easement part of the conditions, they would have to pay for it at market value in the future.
Higdon said he would feel more comfortable discussing the plan with neighbors first, but was willing to make the decision in two weeks rather than a month.
“My concern is that it was done at the 11th hour and I don’t think there was good vetting with the neighbors,” Higdon said.
The board voted unanimously to defer the vote and discuss it again in two weeks.