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Neighbors say nearby ball field is nightmare

Neighbors who earlier this month protested a baseball field being built on Crescent Road, saying bright lights and noise have no place in the heart of horse country, are now saying "I told you so."

Lynda Vaughan, who lives across from the field, said: "He's flipping lights on in the batting cage, blinding every night. Lights shine right into my living room."

And horse-farm owner Suzanne Moore, whose pasture is 800 feet from home plate, said the crack of the bat sends a shock wave through her horses every time the ball is hit.

"I have no issue with children playing ball," Moore said. But "horses are a flight animal. They get spooked and then the other horses get spooked."

Baseball field owner Chuck Fest is crying foul.

"We're disputing it," Fest said. "None of it is correct."

Fest, an investor in Rebound Sports, a youth camps company that leases nearby Camp Keystone, purchased the fields late last year to teach boys and girls how to play baseball. The baseball complex, which is part of an 18-acre tract on Crescent Road, two-tenths of a mile off Gunn Highway, includes four batting cages, a pitching instruction area and six pitching mounds. It also is the training facility for the Tampa Bay Raiders, an AAU team.

"This is a park for the children and we'll continue to be that," Fest said. "We'll do what it takes to comply with neighbors and the county as much as we possibly can. The children need a safe place to do that."

Late last year, in response to neighbors' complaints, county officials reviewed the status of the ballpark when the fields were part of the Keystone Sports Academy, a camp run by Earl and Janice Rodda, owners of Camp Keystone.

At that time, officials confirmed the fields had been approved for instructional use until they were closed down in 1994.

County officials, responding to neighbors' complaints, reinspected the property last week and found infractions, including batting cages too close to the property line. A county ordinance requires a minimum 50-foot setback.

There also is no nighttime activity permitted on the field and no nighttime illumination, except for security, said Tom Hiznay, a senior planner for the county.

Hiznay said the batting cages would have to be moved or Fest would have to apply for a zoning variance.

Fest said that most of the lights go out by 8:30 p.m. and that other lights are for security.

Vaughan, though, said Fest has added even more lights since county officials last inspected the site.

"He has a bright, white light, three times as large as a security light that lights up the entire street, my front yard," Vaughan said. "There's no way that's right."

_ Jackie Ripley can be reached at (813) 226-3468 or ripleysptimes.com.

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