Milford looks back to land on Stearns Road for possible playing fields

AMHERST – After the March elections it seemed as if any chance the town had to gain more land for badly needed sports fields was gone.

Voters overwhelmingly shot down zoning changes that could have allowed athletic practice and events on 47-acres on Stearns Road.

The Board of Selectmen had resisted the idea of leasing the fields from Brad Knight, and in 2010 voters had rejected plans to buy the property.

But since the town is facing a drastic loss of playing fields, selectmen are once again looking to Knight, the property’s owner. In less than two months the town has to stop using Cemetery Fields on Merrimack Road, and many children who want to play soccer or lacrosse could be turned away.

Selectmen had been reluctant to lease the property, saying the reliance on privately owned land could leave the town in a bad position if the landowner decided to no longer let the town use it.

“The reality is that on Sept. 1 our flat fields drop by 40 percent,” said Selectman John D’Angelo at the board’s June 23 meeting.
“What we might not have wanted to do a year ago, we might have to entertain … at least on an interim basis.”

Flat fields are the kind used for soccer and lacrosse, the two sports where enrollments are booming.

Selectman Tom Grella volunteered to talk to Knight.

In a phone interview last week, Knight said he would be willing talk with the board.

“I’m always ready and willing to discuss any option that provides playing fields for kids,” he said. “Absolutely I would lease” the property to the town … “We have a great opportunity to solve a crisis with very little effort.”

In March two petition warrant articles submitted by Knight that would have allowed commercial sporting events at Acorn Fields were overwhelmingly defeated.

Another warrant article, from the Board of Selectmen, for $180,000 to buy part of Cemetery Fields, was also defeated, and voters over the years have turned down proposals to buy land for recreation.

The Cemetery Board of Trustees own the 47-acre property on Merrimack Road and they have asked that all recreation use must stop by Sept. 1.

At the same time, the Planning Board has voted against a plan from Knight to turn some of his Stearns Road property into playing fields, calling it commercial use, which the zoning ordinance does not allow.

Knight also has an organic farm on the property and said he would continue to farm if sports fields were developed.