Little League scoreboard cleared to seek town permit

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

It remains unclear whether the Williston Little League will get an electronic scoreboard at Community Park. But the project scored a point with the town on Monday.

The Williston Selectboard agreed to allow the proposal to move forward to the formal application process. The board had to sign off on the application because the town has a licensing agreement with the Williston School District to use the field.

The Selectboard declined to express either support or opposition to the scoreboard proposal, and specifically avoided forming a formal opinion on potential sponsorship of the device by Coca-Cola.

Mike Healey, a member of the Williston Little League Board of Directors, told the board in March that representatives from the soft drink company had offered to purchase an electronic scoreboard for Community Park. Healey estimated the scoreboard would cost $10,000.

However, D.K. Johnston, the town’s zoning administrator, has said the municipal zoning regulations do not allow that type of advertising in the Historic Village District. He believes an electronic scoreboard without advertising would comply with the regulations.

In a memo to the Selectboard, the Recreation Committee expressed support for an electronic scoreboard at the park, but not if it included advertising.

“The Recreation Committee is committed to maintaining the aesthetic character of the Community Park and does not support the installation of a scoreboard which includes advertising,” the memo read.

Last month, Williston Little League President Dennis Lalancette expressed frustration at the regulatory obstacles to acquiring the scoreboard. He said the Community Park field is located well away from traffic and the advertising could not be seen from the road. He also said the field is located in the Historic District by geography, but not by character.

“It all seems somewhat inane,” Lalancette said.

At Monday night’s meeting, Selectboard member Andy Mikell wondered if it was appropriate to forbid advertising on the scoreboard. He pointed out that ads are common at baseball fields and asked if the town’s rules would prevent the league from acquiring the device.

“It’s hard enough for them to buy balls and caps,” he said. “Their dollars are limited. As long as it’s tastefully done, then I think we should let them do whatever they want.”

Advertising has been a routine sight at baseball fields, both professional and amateur, for decades. It often helps Little Leagues generate revenue. For instance, two fields at Schifilliti Park in the New North End of Burlington have electronic scoreboards. One includes logos for Coca-Cola, and another has a logo for Burlington Local 3044, a union representing firefighters.

Selectboard Chairwoman Ginny Lyons said she was pleased with the concept of an electronic scoreboard at the park, but believed that any sponsorship needed to come from a local business.

“I’m very resistant to having a multinational corporate sponsor for the Little League,” Lyons said.

Selectboard member Jeff Fehrs said he had held the same concerns before remembering the widespread community sponsorship of Skip Farrell of Pepsi-Cola Bottling of Burlington. Although it is a local business, its sponsorship advertises Pepsi, he said.

Healey told the Selectboard in March that the Little League would attempt to raise the money to purchase the scoreboard if the town would not allow sponsorship for it, though it could prove difficult for the league to find the funding.

Town Manager Rick McGuire said it was uncertain what path the scoreboard would take through the regulatory process. The Development Review Board likely will review the proposal.

Bill Sheedy, chairman of the Development Review Board, said the board would not “look the other way” and make an exception to the regulations to allow for sponsorship on the scoreboard.

“The DRB doesn’t have any latitude,” said Sheedy, who is a Little League coach. “We work with whatever regulations the Planning Commission provides. We have no choice.”