In the near term, shoring up safety around the White Heath baseball field is a main emphasis as Sangamon Township looks to purchase 11 acres surrounding the current park.
In the long-term, adding another ball diamond is being considered as the White Heath Recreation ball program continues to gain steam.
Piatt County Zoning Board of Appeals members were sympathetic to both causes on July 25, unanimously approving a rezoning of two parcels the township would like to purchase.
Located on the edge of town, Township Trustee Mike Nolan said they “have a life-saving issue with the parking” located near the road. “Kids are running in and out of cars and that kind of thing.
“This would get parking off the main road and into a different area,” he added of the park expansion proposal that would occur after procuring the extra land.
ZBA Chairman Loyd Wax noted he has attended many games at the diamond, and knows firsthand how dangerous it can be.
“I’m kind of amazed that someone doesn’t get hurt almost every time I’m there,” he said.
Board members voted 4-0 at their July 25 meeting to approve rezoning of two parcels, each bordering the ball field’s outfield fences, from A-1 agricultural to general business zoning, which allows for parks. A 4.64-acre piece, owned by Christina Pontius, would end up housing a parking lot for up to 100 vehicles. The second, a 6.5-acre parcel owned by Richard Pontius and Nancee Moster, could house a second, larger field in the future.
About two acres would be left over for future development.
The rezoning now goes before the county board on Aug. 14.
A grant from the Robert Milligan Trust will pay for about half of the approximately $110,000 the township will need to purchase the 11 acres. Balances in the township parks fund will take care of another $40,000 or so, leaving the township with only $10,000 to $15,000 to make up.
Figures show the need for a second field. White Heath Recreation Secretary Aaron Brown said participation has grown from 60 to 183 participants in six years.
“The field is booked seven days a week from about the first of April through the first of July,” he said.
At that point, the Monticello Middle School boys’ baseball team takes over with August practices and games into the fall.
With practices typically limited to 90 minutes each, “the thing we’re looking forward to is having capacity so people don’t have to practice so late, and don’t have to limit to an hour and a half,” added Brown.
The new field will also allow for older participants. Brown said the current fences of 274 feet to left, 267 feet to center and 264 feet to right field will accommodate up through middle school athletes. The new field would have high school appropriate lengths.
Sangamon Township Supervisor Kathleen Piatt said the current field is known far and wide for its ability to drain rapidly.
“It’s a wonderful field. People and teams really enjoy playing on it,” she said.
Piatt also said the landowners have worked well with the township to make parcels available that will best suit the park’s needs.
She hopes the township can officially take ownership of the land in September.
“The goal is to do something for the community,” she added.
Other zoning business
The ZBA also approved a variation for Peter and Mackenzie Klein that would allow them to separate a 3.04-acre piece of a 40-acre parcel of agriculturally zoned land near Cisco. They plan to construct a single family residence.
County code requires at least 20 acres for new homes, but has been finding that homeowners have difficulty obtaining loans for home construction on that large of a site.
In this case, the applicants have enough acreage to meet county code, but have been told loans will be difficult to obtain unless the parcel is smaller.
For that reason, the ZBA approved the variance by a 4-0 vote.
“If it wasn’t for the bank, we wouldn’t even be talking about it,” noted zoning board member Jerry Edwards.
The variation also goes to the county board for its consideration on Aug. 14.