Church May Be Forced to Relocate Softball Field

Times Staff Writer

A La Canada Flintridge church that built a softball field in the wrong spot two years ago may be forced to relocate the diamond or find a way to reduce noise during games, according to city planning officials.

Nearby residents say constant cheering and shouting during games at the Foothill Boulevard field owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints make it impossible for them to relax in their homes.

A group of those residents discovered the field's mistaken location in October when they compared the field's layout to the original design plan, according to Community Development Director Bill Campbell. The field was 100 feet west of a site approved by the Planning Commission in 1983.

Mistake Termed Oversight

Church representative John S. Welch said the mistake was an oversight.

"What happened was unfortunate," Welch said. "Our athletic department didn't pay much attention to the drawing."

He also contended that neighbors' complaints about noise are exaggerated.

"The games are poorly attended. Usually, we can't get enough people to come cheer for the kids. . . . We're not the Dodgers," Welch said.

City officials said that, in addition to building the field on the wrong site, the church failed to adequately landscape the property as required by the permit. And, residents said, games occasionally begin earlier than the permitted 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. playing period.

The violations give the Planning Commission authority to revoke the permit, effectively prohibiting church softball games, Campbell said. Alternatives include requiring the church to move its baseball diamond to the correct site or making it build a wall to reduce noise.

Church officials, however, said they hope the city will delay action until noise readings can be obtained during the 1986 church softball season. About 180 children and adults play on church leagues, which run from April through July, Welch said.

Most nearby residents oppose this proposal. Dennis Kaye and Jennifer Wohler, whose homes overlook the field, said they want the commission to set noise limits in time for the coming softball season.

"On Saturday, every five minutes you hear loud yelling and screaming," Kaye said about last year's games.

Added Marie Saum, whose house adjoins the church property: "Even with the doors and windows shut and the TV on, you can still hear the noise."

During three public hearings in recent months, Welch has steadfastly opposed relocation, claiming it would not reduce noise. Such a move, he said, would be expensive and require tearing up a parking lot. The church spent $40,000 to build the field, Welch said.

Instead, Welch suggested posting signs in the field asking players and fans not to shout or cheer too loudly. He also proposes building an eight-foot sound wall to serve as a buffer between the homeowners and the playing field.

But residents, fearing that a wall also would fail to control noise, persuaded the church to hire a sound engineer to study what measures might be most effective.

Last week, engineer Gordon Bricken told the Planning Commission that a wall of at least 12 feet is needed to provide a "measurable reduction" in noise for homes on the same level as the church field.

But even a 12-foot wall would not alleviate noise for several residents whose homes sit on a ridge overlooking the church, Bricken said. The 27-page report recommended that the city obtain decibel readings during softball games and compare these readings to acceptable community noise levels.

The city has no noise ordinance, but its General Plan sets forth varying noise standards that could be incorporated into the church's conditional use permit, Campbell said.

The Planning Commission is expected to decide the issue March 25 after another public hearing.

The commission also may consider other measures, including requiring the church to plant trees and shrubbery between the playing field and residences to absorb noise and ending games by 6 p.m.

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