Field of dreams

A photo taken from Jeremy and Jocelyn Brants’ back porch shows the Fenway Park-inspired Wiffle ball field, complete with seating area to the right of the picture, that their neighbor constructed during the pandemic.

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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(10) comments

MCC

This is definitely a commercial venture. It is incorporated as an organization with the Secretary of State, Nellie Gorbea. I would like to understand the permitting application. Was a permit required by the Town and if not, why not? I would doubt that this would be allowed in a zoned residential area. You want to do this? Move to Burrillville and buy 40 acres of land. I could not imagine this being allowed and believe that it should be shut down immediately.

NorthSF4Life

This appears to be a commercial venture. If money is changing hands, it seems wrong to have told the town that the intended use is for friends and family.

Pete Godon

So what exactly makes this backyard ball field a replica of Fenway Park?. Is there a green monster? Does it have the center field triangle? From the picture, it looks like just any other baseball field one might have in a large backyard. If more people had things like this the youth of the town might not get mixed up in other things. We can put aside all fears of the "Evils of Baseball". I applaud them for building the field. It provides a great family activity. I'm sure we can all agree that they are not a part of the "Not In My Back Yard" crowd.

JB

According to the owner, in a previous article, the Green Monster, a press box and even a Citgo sign are planned for the future. While I agree sports, including baseball are important for childhood growth and development that is not the intended use for this field. There are no children at this address and this field will most likely be used for the RI Wiffle Ball League whose participants are mainly adult men. This neighborhood has children and families who want to enjoy their backyards in peace and privacy as I think anyone would. This location isn't an appropriate place for a summer-long adult Wiffleball league to play their games. They have operated for 25 years on public fields across RI and they should continue to do so.

MCC

Yes, Pete it would be one thing if it were a family activity. It is not. It is a commercial use of land in a residential neighborhood. It would seem that our zoning ordinances would prohibit such use, considering they lied to the town in their discussions. I would certainly not want large groups of people I don’t know close to my backyard, with a PA system and bleachers to accommodate a whiffle ball league.

RC

Once again, it seems that people in this town don't have the common courtesy to walk over to their neighbor and respectfully discuss whatever is the problem. Simple communication between adults...it's not that difficult if you are mature. They Just call the town or the police if something bothers them. I see and hear about it from others all the time. At that point, why would anybody want to work out a solution with someone calling the police on them? I wouldn't and I'd never care about them as neighbors ever again. Also, you can't control the property that you don't own (within zoning regs, of course). If you want trees, but more acreage.

DG19

I find is ironic that you speak about maturity when Mr Simone is the one building a replica of Fenway Park in his backyard and up to the property line of his neighbors to indulge in a childhood fantasy. And let us be clear that the neighborly thing to do would have been for him to notify his neighbors in person as opposed to in a front page article in the newspaper, which is what he did. And since you brought up zoning laws, let’s not forget that this is an unprecedented gray area. There is precedence for things like personal ice rinks in winter and drive-in theaters. But something like this is not defined by the town, though you would think it should be. Or perhaps you would be perfectly content if this was ajoined to your property.

Ida

Agree. Seems since he is accepting money and so it falls within a business operating, not a hobby as initially intended among family and friends.

NorthSF4Life

This is a commercial venture. It doesn't matter if it's 200 dollars or 200 cents. Telling the town that this is for friends and family is a willful misrepresentation of the intended use. Further more, simply communicating as adults should have been done prior to the approval of any construction.

MCC

Let’s face facts. Many neighbors are not reasonable these days. All you need to do is watch the School Committee meeting in August to know that. This is a commercial venture in the midst of an area, zoned residential.

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