Residents clash over North Stamford soccer club plan

May 14, 2019 GMT

STAMFORD — Noise, bright lights and increased congestion were some of the biggest concerns North Stamford residents voiced about a plan to convert a current tennis and swimming club into a predominantly soccer facility.

Neighbors of the current Long Ridge Club expressed disdain for the plan before the Zoning Board on Monday night. The proposal would reduce the current number of tennis courts at the club in half, replace the old club house, and build two new soccer fields — one full, the other partial.

Valerie Scott, who has lived across from the club for 25 years, said the project would violate the city’s master plan, calling it “offensive and invasive to the North Stamford area.”


She and fellow neighbors said the proposed club would cause property values to plummet because of what they believe will be increased traffic, noise and bright lights from the facility.

“We as a community are all extremely troubled by this,” she said, adding it has “placed a great deal of stress” on herself and the neighbors.

But a large contingent of Stamford residents spoke in favor of the soccer club, which they say would bring much needed soccer fields to an underserved area and would be a major benefit for youth in the city.

Adam Harper, who lives on Long Ridge Road, has been a member of the swim and tennis club since 2001, and even served as president. He remembers a time when the parking lot was packed with cars. But over the years, through what he called “poor management,” the club fell into disrepair and is no longer financially viable.

“I see this proposal as an opportunity to maintain this sports facility,” Harper said. “I do not think this will substantially impact from an adverse effect the neighborhood. In fact, I think it will be a positive thing in terms of the sports facility for kids and also for the very successful tennis teams.”

Dennis Kaplan, who is a member of the Long Ridge Swim & Tennis Club, and has played tennis there for over 30 years, wants to see the club continue. He said teams at the club compete at the highest levels locally and are well respected.

The proposed club is the brainchild of self-described “soccer nut” Martin Waters, a Greenwich resident, who wants to overhaul the current club, which he purchased in 2017 for $1.2 million. In order to open, however, Waters needs the city to change its zoning ordinance to allow a soccer club there, which is why his proposal was being discussed Monday.


The city’s Planning Board already denied Waters’ application by a unanimous vote, claiming the proposal goes against the city’s master plan by allowing soccer in a low-density residential area, where commercial use is prohibited. The Zoning Board can override the Planning Board’s finding.

The question of whether or not the club will be commercial in nature has been a major point of contention, but Waters insists the facility will be operated as a nonprofit.

The Planning Board was not satisfied with that answer, however, and said a for-profit business renting out the club, for example, would increase commercial activity in North Stamford.

Casey O’Donnell, attorney for Waters, said the club will not lease to for-profit organizations.

“Our goal here is only have nonprofit organizations accessing the site,” he said.

Another major complaint from residents is the noise the soccer fields could generate in the neighborhood.

Acoustical engineer Bennett Brooks, hired by the applicant, said the noises from the proposed fields would not have a negative effect on the quality of life in the area, and that the fields themselves would be a positive amenity for city residents.

Nonetheless, he did say certain sounds will likely be audible, such as whistles used by referees.

Bennett said he conducted a noise study that found that the sound of a whistle is 48 decibels from 100 feet away, and 28 decibels from 500 feet. A lawnmower is roughly 90 decibels.

William Morris, member of the Zoning Board, was not convinced by the study, saying the sound of a whistle can be heard clearly when sitting in a much larger stadium setting. He said such noise could be detrimental to neighbors.

“It’s not just one thing that affects quality of life,” he said. “All these things that add up.”

Stephen Cole, who has lived on Gary Road for 43 years, said the soccer fields could bring plenty of people to the residential area.

“If such activities are so scarce, as the new owner asserts, it is reasonable to predict that the intensity of use will be very high,” he said.

Cole was also concerned about who would be coming to the games.

“Competitive soccer in other countries has famously attracted devoted and rowdy fans and the same should be expected here,” he said.

Alison Catanese, another neighbor, called it “out of character.”

She said the noise from the development would be more than just a nuisance.

“Soccer will essentially shut us in as prisoners in our homes, render our outdoor land unusable, make it unenjoyable to entertain guests and to pray every night that the season ends early or that it will rain,” she said. “Soccer removes our legal right to the peaceful enjoyment of our homes.”

Waters spoke at the end of the meeting, and said he is surprised his proposal has become so contentious.

“I wanted to take an existing tennis and swim club, which at its peak had 497 members not that very long ago ... I want to take that club and restore it to its former glory,” he said.

And a big part of that plan, he said, was giving a platform to soccer, the fastest growing sport in the country.

“This is primarily about the kids,” he said. “I think we have the opportunity to do something truly remarkable for our community and that’s what I’m seeking help with.”

Waters also addressed a claim that he would not be paying taxes on the property by telling the board that he is up-to-date on his taxes and will continue to pay them. A nonprofit operator will run the club, but he will keep paying taxes as the owner, he said.

Waters said soccer games would mostly take place on Saturday and Sunday, with some during weekday nights.

“We will gift the use of the land for a 20-year period to the nonprofit free of charge,” he said.

“I know that it’s been difficult for some people in the room to believe that philanthropy exists, but it does,” he said, to applause from supporters.

The hearing will continue next Monday when a vote is expected.