Little League scoreboard debate goes into extra innings

Selectboard not scheduled to make decision until 2006

By Michelle Edelbaum
Observer Staff

The Williston Little League will probably have to wait until next year before learning if it can use an electronic scoreboard and place advertising on outfield fences.

The Planning Commission, which is required to hold a public hearing on proposed amendments to the zoning ordinance that would allow the scoreboard, won’t likely discuss the issue until November, Town Manager Rick McGuire said. The Planning Commission is busy with updating the town’s comprehensive plan through the end of October, said Chairwoman Judy Sassorossi. That means that the public hearing on the zoning changes cannot be held until December. The commission would then make a recommendation to the Selectboard in January, McGuire said.

The field where the Little League plays is located in the town’s historic district. Current zoning does not allow an electronic scoreboard or advertising on signs, so the rules would have to be amended to accommodate the Little League’s proposal.

Little League board member Mike Healey said waiting until January or February will make it tough for the league to plan for the next season. The league would like to have a scoreboard ready at the beginning of April. He said it takes 10–12 weeks to order and install a scoreboard.

But Healy said he understands that the months-long timeline is unavoidable.

“I think that it’s part of the process we have to go through. I’m just going to go to the public hearing, whenever it is, and plead our case,” Healey said.

As part of its review, the Planning Commission will look at other communities’ sign ordinances and it will consider alternatives to advertising in order to recognize sponsors. Sassorossi said any changes to the zoning ordinance would apply to the entire town, including public fields at Brennan Woods and Rossignol Park.

“What gets lost is that we can’t make a rule that just applies to this Little League field,” Sassorossi said. “We can’t make rules for one entity. The rules have to apply evenly to all.”

When the Planning Commission takes up the issue, it will discuss how to word a public hearing notice and what public comment to consider, Sassorossi said. After holding the hearing, the commission will draft revisions to the ordinance based on the information gathered from the public and other towns, then report back to the Selectboard.

“Nobody wants the kids to suffer,” Sassorossi said. “We want the kids to be proud of their field, but we want to be proud of our community, too, and that’s an important life lesson for our kids.”

The Selectboard, at its Aug. 22 meeting, agreed that the zoning ordinances should be amended to allow for an electronic scoreboard, but did not agree on whether advertising should be permitted on the scoreboard and on fences surrounding the field.

“The good thing is we’re going to have a scoreboard,” Healy said. “Whether there will be good news down the road as far as whether or not the Little League can be self-sufficient, we’ll have to see.”

The estimated cost of the scoreboard is $5,000. Coca-Cola has offered to pay for the scoreboard if a portion of it is devoted to advertising one of its products.

A Williston health club, Sports & Fitness Edge, has also offered to buy a scoreboard, but the business said it would not require its logo or advertisement to be placed on it. The town also considered paying for the scoreboard, a motion that is currently tabled.

The Little League wants to sell banners with sponsor advertising, which would hang on outfield fences, to generate revenue. Healey said the revenue would offset expenses, which include uniforms, field maintenance and equipment. The Little League would split the revenue from the sales of the advertisements with the town. Healey said the town’s portion of the revenue could be used for field maintenance.