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Residents gripe about new ballpark

Traffic overflow on 12th Street S leaves some residents near Lakewood Baseball Complex feeling betrayed by planners.

Game nights muss up the unhurried pace of the neighborhood next to the new Lakewood Baseball Complex.

Several nights a week, 12th Street S, a quiet side street, briefly becomes a traffic artery as cars carry young ball players to their diamonds. In the park's opening week in April, the parking lot overflowed with vans, sport utility vehicles and the occasional school bus at the four new fields north of 12th Street and 60th Avenue S.

"They were parking on people's driveways and in front of people's houses," said Judy Anderson, who lives a few houses away at 5930 12th St. S.

Baypoint Little League, the primary tenant of Lakewood Baseball Complex, claims 325 registered players ages 7 to 16. Even distributed over several nights, that often makes for more cars than can fit into the lot's 75 available parking spaces. Typically, overflow parking spills on to the grass at the end of the parking lot rather than up 12th Street.

While the players are happy to have the new fields, satisfaction with the park and the city is scarce around this stand of homes, which sits diagonally and to the southeast of the four new fields.

And with some of the discomforts come neighbors' questions about the changes, amorphous little things that add one upon another, and seem to sum to something more.

Among them: the line of trees cut down for the fields, the ones that used to block neighbors' views of Lakewood High School; and the minor fish kill earlier this year in nearby Lake Coronado and the apparent drop in birds there. City officials said construction had nothing to do with it, but some neighbors still aren't convinced. And then some remember a petition about traffic from a few years ago.

None of this was supposed to be a problem, according to some neighbors who remember back to 1998. At that time, Bay Point Elementary and Middle schools had announced a plan to build new buildings right alongside the old, thus vacating the grounds of Baypoint Little League. A few people recall signing a petition proffered by someone named Roy, who owned a gas station at the corner of Dr. M.L. King (Ninth) Street S and 62nd Avenue.

According to these accounts, Roy answered concerns about traffic brought by the baseball complex by saying the project would not cut into their neighborhood. Instead, an access road would be cut from 54th Avenue S.

A Chevron station at 6191 Dr. M.L. King (Ninth) St. S, now the Skyway Amoco Food Shop, was owned by Roy Pate in the mid-1990s. Pate now sells real estate out of an office at Bayou Club Estates in Seminole. He remembers circulating a petition among property owners around Lake Coronado near the ballfields, but says it had nothing to do with Lakewood Baseball Complex.

The petition, Pate said, was for lighting on the second of two baseball fields at Lake Vista Community Center, which is west of the new complex. Baypoint Little League uses the Lake Vista fields for its upper-echelon players. Pate, a member of the league's board of directors in 1998, said he would not have been discussing entrances to Lakewood Baseball Complex because his petition concerned a different ballpark.

That's the way Henry Johnson, of 1161 60th Ave. S, remembers it, too. Pate only wanted permission to light the second of Lake Vista's fields, an effort that was successful. Still, Johnson remembers thinking that traffic into Lakewood would come through 54th Avenue S. This information came through no specific source. It was more of a general impression, Johnson said: "Just people talking around the neighborhood."

City planners were also talking about a 54th Avenue S entrance to the park _ but as something they did not want to do. John Greene, director of the city's capital improvements department, participated in meetings with Lakewood High School principal Walter Hall and city traffic officials. One of the options discussed for handling traffic to the park was to extend 12th Street all the way to 54th Avenue S.

"I remember very specifically there being discussions that there would not be a through street connector extending 12th Street from 62nd Avenue S to 54th Avenue," Greene said, "for the fear that students and other people in the area would use that as a major connector between 54th and 62nd."

City Council member Larry Williams was also part of those discussions.

"We just left it on the table," Williams said. "The reason we didn't deal with it was because it would add to a traffic problem on 54th, which is a busy east-west artery."

Instead, the plan called for two possible routes to the baseball complex _ one from the east along 58th Avenue S, and the other from the south through the 12th Sreet entrance. Speed humps already slow traffic on 58th Avenue, and city transportation director Angelo Rao said that residents have approved more speed humps on 12th Sreet S approaching the park.

That's fine with softball commissioner Tony Brunello, who said he understands residents' concerns. The league strongly encourages parents to stay with their children during games and not use the league as "a drop-off babysitting service," Brunello said.

"We should do some community outreach (to neighbors)," he said.

And while the change hasn't been easy for everyone, some neighbors are sanguine about the situation. "There's more lights, a little more noise," said Marge Stanley, who takes care of a swan behind her home at 5895 11th St. S. "But let's face it _ those are happy sounds."