By PHIL NOBILE
Amidst a flurry of aggravated shouting and angry response, the town’s Planning Board gave a professional soccer team the approval to call Purchase home for the next five years.
The New York City Football Club, a Major League Soccer affiliate, will conduct its training, practices and youth program at Manhattanville College until 2019, with an option of two single-year extensions if extra time is needed down the line.
The club will spend $10 million on the renovation of the school’s Kennedy Gymnasium and creation of two regulation sized soccer fields, which will be donated in perpetuity once the club moves to permanent headquarters, according to the proposal, which was passed at the April 22 Planning Board meeting. The organization is looking to move into the facility in late 2014 or early 2015, and start practicing at the college by next March.
The decision, rendered by a 4-2 majority vote from Planning Board members, was met with instant outrage from members of the Purchase community and leaders of the Purchase Environmental Protective Association, a non-profit located in Purchase that monitors development proposals in the area. Board members Nonie Reich and Marshall Donat were the sole votes against the plan, but did not publicly state why.
According to PEPA’s president, Michael Tokarz, the approval from the board would ultimately lead to a change in traffic in the community, citing soccer as “the number one spectator sport in the world.”
“This is a business that is designed to attract crowds, media and events. It’s a corporate activity for profit, not a donation,” Tokarz said. “This isn’t going to stand.”
Specifically, the board approved the site plan as amended by the college and club and gave the project a negative declaration for environmental impact, meaning it will have none.
All projects in New York State are required to undergo a State Environmental Quality Review before approval.
While the Purchase community rebelled at the decision, to the point of a Harrison police presence being required at the meeting, the soccer club expressed joy at the approval, and hoped for construction on the gymnasium and fields to begin this summer.
“From the beginning of this process, we have been solely focused on creating a relationship that is beneficial for the community, Manhattanville College and New York City Football Club,” the club’s chief business officer, Tim Pernetti, said. “We are looking forward to being great neighbors.”
The existing neighbors did not share the same sentiments toward the club.
Speaking out during the meeting with threats of lawsuits and cries of a lack of public discourse, neighbors from the adjacent gated community The Springs showed up in numbers at the Planning Board’s April meeting; more than 20 residents from the community attended.
It was unclear whether or not some of the concerns and issues expressed by the community had anything to do with the college and club’s proposal in the first place.
Resident Herb Lowbell, who lives at 3 Westview in The Springs, brought up issues regarding the college’s softball games, due to the softball field being closest to the neighborhood and Anderson Hill Road.
“It is my hope that, since there are so many changes coming about, this would be the time to get some of the problems resolved,” Lowbell said.
Board member Kate Barnwell attempted to guide the meeting toward the specific application before them, which was for a site plan approval and an environmental approval solely.
“I’m having a hard time linking the lights and noise concerns of the community to this particular project,” Barnwell said.
Ultimately, the board approved the proposal, factoring in a mandatory review after five years’ time to see if the club has been compliant with the proposal and to allow them continued usage of the college if needed.
On April 21, it was announced by the club its inaugural season would be held at Yankee Stadium.