Athletic Field Upgrade Plan Sparks Neighborhood Spat

What happens when a parochial high school, which has owned its 20-acre tract of land in North Arlington since 1949, plans to upgrade its athletic facilities with the help of a local university? A full-blown neighborhood controversy, of course.

Bishop O’Connell High School wants to spend $6 million renovating its football and baseball fields. The renovations would add new artificial turf to the football field, making it doubly usable as a regulation soccer field.

The renovations would also add lights to both fields, so they can be used after the sun goes down. The school has agreed to limit hours of use, however.

Nearby Marymount University will help pay for the renovations, in exchange for use of the fields.

Enter the neighbors, who are worried about increased traffic and “commotion” in the area, especially at night.

“Realtors expect decline in home values,” blares a headline from a blog set up for the sole purpose of opposing the renovations.

“Petition drive shows strong opposition to O’Connell plan,” reads another, announcing that more than 250 people signed a petition opposing the plan.

The petition was signed by many people who don’t even live next to the school.

“[Signature gatherers] have found a large percentage of residents opposed to the proposal, including many who live outside the immediate streets around O’Connell,” the blog stated.

In an interview with TBD, one vocal neighbor and Williamsburg Civic Association member said he moved to the neighborhood under the assumption that the high school — and Tuckahoe Elementary School, across the street — would remain quiet after school hours.

“I’ve lived in the neighborhood 25 years now, and when I moved in, I was concerned about the high school,” the resident said. “But I talked to the neighbors, and they said it wasn’t hard to come to grips with the commotion during the day. It was a factor in my moving here.”

The county board is expected to consider the school’s renovation proposal at its Jan. 22 meeting.

Unanswered question: At what point is the desire of homeowners to maintain the neighborhood status quo outweighed by the desire of a long-time landowner to upgrade their facilities?

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