NORTH SMITHFIELD – One man’s dream to build a replica of Fenway Park in his backyard has become the stuff of nightmares for neighbors who say they had no idea competitive ball games would be happening just outside their property lines.
E. Justin Simone, an avid baseball fan and founder of the Rhode Island Wiffle Ball League, recently completed Ocean State Fenway Park, a custom-designed replica of the famous ballpark in the backyard of his Lincoln Drive home. The field measures about 111 feet from home plate to center field and includes a seating area for fans along a rock wall behind third base.
For Simone, the field represents 25 years’ worth of dreaming while running the Wiffle ball league, but for his neighbors, it’s a pandemic project gone wrong. After the league held its inaugural event at the field this past Sunday, Oct. 3, Stephanie Bouley, a neighbor to the rear of the property, reached out to The Breeze to raise concerns about the noise, tree clearing and a lack of notice for residents about the field located just beyond their backyards.
“While I’m no expert in the various permissions needed to construct a ball field, I do know that my neighbors and I were not considered in a single decision made,” she said.
Bouley, a medical researcher for Massachusetts General Hospital, said she first noticed trees being cleared while she was working from home in May of last year. Bouley said she thought her neighbor might be putting in a pool and didn’t realize the extent of the project until she read an article about it in The Breeze last month.
“I drive by Fenway Park every day on my way to work and I always think, thank god I don’t have to see this,” she said. “And now it’s in my backyard.”
Jeremy and Jocelyn Brant, who own the house next door to Bouley’s, said they also have concerns about the ball field next to their home. Pictures taken early on in the project last year show a dense wood behind their property on Sharon Parkway. Now, only a few sparse trees separate their backyard from the seating area, and most of the field is visible from their back porch.
Jeremy said they were initially relieved to learn from the contractor during construction that the project was a Wiffle ball field, as they thought a new house would pose a greater disturbance for their home. At the time, Jocelyn said, they didn’t understand the impact a ball field could have on the neighborhood.
“We have three young kids, and they play out back here,” she said. “I think it’s going to continue to be a problem for the entire neighborhood.”
On Sunday, Jeremy called the police to file a noise complaint after about 40 people gathered for the league’s All-Star Tournament. The police officer, he said, told him it wasn’t loud enough to file a complaint, despite the use of a PA system and the cheering spectators sitting near the field.
“If you’ve ever been to McCoy Stadium and can hear the PA system from two streets away, it was kind of like that on a smaller scale,” he said.
Simone told The Breeze on Tuesday his neighbors have never approached him with concerns about the field. Anyone worried about the field’s impact, he said, is welcome to speak with him directly about addressing the issues.
“I have not been approached once by any of the neighbors. Our neighbors are always more than welcome to reach out to us, and we’d be happy to meet and address any concerns that they may have,” he said.
The league has traditionally held games in Johnston and North Smithfield, including an annual charity classic at Pacheco Park. This year’s event included a $200 registration fee for teams, with the best players selected to play in the All-Star Tournament that took place this past weekend in Simone’s backyard. According to its website, the league has raised money for various organizations over the years, including Hasbro Children’s Hospital, Amos House, the Rhode Island Community Food Bank and the Wounded Warrior Project.
Simone said he’s been in contact with the town and has not had any problems as far as permitting.
“Everything is fine; we haven’t had any issues with the town,” he said.
Bouley said she contacted town Building Official Kerry Anderson after reading about the plans for the field last month. In a follow-up conversation, she said, Anderson told her he’d met with Simone and was informed the field would be for “friends and family” only.
“You’re not charging your friends and family $200 to play in a game,” she argued.
The town zoning ordinance includes a list of allowable or denied uses in residential areas but does not say anything about backyard ball fields. Bouley said she believes it’s a gray area and that neighbors should have been informed about the project.
A larger concern, she said, is what will happen next summer. She and the Brants are worried the league will relocate its regular season games to Lincoln Drive and that the events will become a regular occurrence. In an interview with Valley Breeze Sports Editor Eric Benevides in August, Simone said he plans to install a Green Monster along with a press box, Citgo sign and small lighting system. He also mentioned the possibility of hosting movie nights and small concerts.
Asked about the future plans on Tuesday, Simone said he hasn’t yet determined the schedule for next summer.
Neighbors said they’d be more comfortable if Simone installed a privacy barrier and agreed not to use a PA system, but even then they’d be worried about the impact on their homes. Before they purchased their house in 2018, Jeremy said, he and Jocelyn looked at a home abutting Pacheco Park but decided against buying it because they didn’t want the disturbance of being near a public park.
“Now here we are, it’s like our house has been picked up and put in that spot for us,” he said.
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