By Igor Studenkov | For the Bugle
When the Niles Park District put in a new baseball diamond in the northeastern corner of Oak Park, several residents living nearby weren’t pleased.
They made their displeasure know during the June 27 Village of Niles Board of Trustees meeting. They complained that it brought in more traffic and took away from the park’s green space. They also complained the changes happened without any advance notice, catching them off-guard.
Because the village actually owns the park, they said hey hoped the board could do something about it. Niles Mayor Andrew Przybylo declined to commit to anything, saying only that he had no idea the diamond was added, and that he would look into the matter.
Oak Park takes up most of the residential block between Lee Street, Ottawa Avenue, Main Street and Ozark Avenue. The land belongs to the village, but the park district has been leasing it since 1994 for a symbolic amount of $1 a year. Even before this summer, it already had one baseball diamond on the northwest corner and a tennis court further south. There is a sizable playground at the southeastern corner, and in the middle, the trees form a ring-like structure, providing shade for the benches underneath.
Tom Elenz, Niles Park District executive director, told the Bugle that the new field was build specifically for kids under the age of 10.
“We wanted a field that would be geared for smaller kids learning how to play baseball and softball,” he said. “All of our current fields were for older kids and were too big for smaller children, meaning that if a child was playing the outfield they would not be on the grass but the infield because the field was too big.”
The new field was built in June. Elenz explained that each project was awarded contract individually, and none of the contracts costs more than the $250,000, so the park district wasn’t required to do a public bidding process, or issue any kind of notices. Elenz also indicated that a new baseball diamond was a permitted use under the lease.
As resident Patricia Ballard explained during the June 27 meeting, she was alarmed to see the diamond go up. She said she would much rather see the corner be a natural area.
“I’m asking that the village ask the park district to preserve, not destroy natural spaces,” Ballard said. “I ask you if it is within you power to take down that baseball field.”
Resident Elizabeth Stolarezuk said that construction caught her off-guard.
“We weren’t informed,” she said. “With the new baseball field, no one expected it; it was built, just like that.”
Diane Romanek, who said that she across the street from the park questioned the need for the new diamond and expressed concern about its effect on property values
“For programs that run only two months, we lost our beautiful park,” she said. “It was a beautiful park setting and it increased the value of our property. The baseball field takes away value from our homes.
Romanek also argued that the park district should have engaged the residents.
“If the neighbors were told this was happening and asked for input, we’d be able to give better options,” she said.
Przybylo said that he would look into it.
“I don’t know how that’s going to transpire, but you will hear from me,” he said. “I will probably meet with all of you, somewhere ad some time, to address your issues the best I can.”
Trustee Joe LoVerde, who served as the Niles Park District executive director before retiring last fall, addressed the board as a citizen. He said that, while he had nothing to do with the decision to add another diamond to Oak Park, to the best of his knowledge, it was allowed under the village zoning code.
“Park districts are P zoning, which is public land use,” he said. “I believe baseball is permitted use.”