By PHIL NOBILE
A proposed plan for an emerging professional soccer club hoping to team up with Manhattanville College for practice and training purposes is being met with some community concerns about potential environmental and quality-of-life issues.
The New York City Football Club, one of the newest teams to be added to Major League Soccer, has proposed a deal with Manhattanville College in Purchase to temporarily train at the school. At Harrison’s March 25 Planning Board meeting, attorneys for the club and college presented their plans to the board and public, following community comments that have raised environmental and traffic concerns.
The $10 million proposal calls for internal renovations to the college’s 56,000-square-foot Kennedy Gymnasium, removal of existing tennis courts to create a new regulation sized field and refurbishment of an older soccer field to accommodate professional athletes.
According to the plan, Manhattanville’s footprint will not be altered as the plan does not include any new buildings or external expansions, and the full grass and artificial fields built and fixed will be given to the college at the end of the contract between the parties.
Seth Mandelbaum, attorney for Manhattanville College, said the deal struck was a
five-year contract with potential for a two-year extension. Mandelbaum and the club’s chief business officer, Tim Pernetti, emphasized the deal is
“This is a significant investment in Manhattanville College,” Pernetti said. “Once we build our permanent home elsewhere, the fields will be donated to the school in perpetuity.”
The club, which was formed officially in May 2013 and has struggled to find a permanent stadium in one of New York City’s five boroughs since 2012, stressed the use of Manhattanville College would be, according to language in the proposed contract, strictly temporary and solely for practice purposes until a permanent home is constructed.
Initially hoping to build a home in Queens at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, the club was denied by strong opposition to the plan because of the changes needed to the park.
According to Pernetti, the club ultimately wants to find a permanent stadium and training facility, but views teaming-up with the college as a viable option pending the club’s inaugural season in 2015.
Major League Soccer, a professional soccer league in the United States formed in December 1993, plays its season each year from the beginning of spring until the end of fall.
Pernetti assured the Planning Board and local residents that usage of the facilities would not be excessive, with 25 players and 20 staff members using them at a maximum. The chief business officer also said the club’s youth program, the New York City Football Club Academy, would be limited to 80 to 100 players, or “a daily influx of up to 130 individuals,” with few weekly youth games at night and on weekends.
Like many European soccer clubs, the academy will serve as a farm program for select younger players in the community.
It is the youth program and lack of a full environmental assessment for the proposal that has drawn criticism from groups and communities in the area.
The Purchase Environmental Protection Agency—a nonprofit located in Purchase to monitor development proposals in the area—recently submitted an online petition for the Planning Board’s consideration, garnering more than 100 signatures as of press time.
The petition asks for Manhattanville and the New York City Football Club to submit a full Environmental Assessment Form to assess potential impacts; impose conditions on the proposal that the club or Major League Soccer will not turn the practice fields into playing fields for league scrimmages or games and that the Planning Board follow the town’s Master Plan, which states “Harrison will seek cooperation between the colleges and the town to protect the interest of residents.”
“The historical documented impacts of such development that a…major league sports complex will bring include traffic congestion, road widening, significant loss of property values and environmental threats, such as air pollution from all the extra cars and team buses, excess noise and change in the overall image and appearance of the community of Purchase,” the petition reads.
Mandelbaum referred to Planning Board consultant Pat Cleary’s recommendation that the proposal only needs a Type II action, meaning no further review under the state’s environmental review program would be required.
According to the state, a Type II action has “been found categorically to not have significant adverse impacts on the environment,” and, as a result, do not require any declaration or assessment forms to be filed.
“Neither the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation regulations, nor the scope of this project, require the use of the Full Environmental Assessment Form,” Risa Heller, a communications spokesperson for the club, said. “The Planning Board, as the lead agency under SEQRA, agreed.”
Mandelbaum also argued there would be lower traffic than in years’ prior thanks to an old camp—Soundview Summer Camp—leaving the college with its 250 or more campers after this year. The soccer club’s summer program would only run in July, according to Mandelbaum, and, during the year, their farm youth program would only occur three weekday evenings and occasional weekends.
The attorney also countered the traffic concerns, saying it would be mandatory for all players and staff to enter through a designated College Road entrance, not through the college’s Purchase Street entrance or a side entrance on Anderson Hill Road.
The public hearing was closed by a 3 to 2 vote of the board at its March 25 meeting. At the next regularly scheduled meeting on April 22, the Planning Board is expected to decide on whether or not to approve the club’s proposal.
The football club hopes to begin training at Manhattanville College in January 2015 and begin competing by the start of the season in March 2015. The club’s director of football, Claudio Reyna, announced on March 20 that the team’s temporary stadium—rumored to be Yankee Stadium in the Bronx—for the first few seasons will be announced at some point this in April.
Executive Director of the Purchase Environmental Protection Agency Anne Gould could not be reached for comment as of press time.