Private school, council and neighbors clash over new courts
At the far northeast corner of the property owned by St. Andrew’s School had been a stand of trees — about an acre in size — filled with choke cherry and some maples.
It was not much to look at, say some neighbors, but it was far better than the 10-foot tall chainlink fence and asphalt tennis courts that now cover the same parcel of land.
Jack DeAmorim said the private school’s decision to clear out dozens of trees and fill the same space with tennis courts has likely decreased the value of his property on County Road. Mr. DeAmorim said the construction of the courts and subsequent installation of a drainage pipe will also, eventually, inundate his lot with water.
Mr. DeAmorim sent a letter to the Barrington Town Council in December listing his complaints.
It stated, in part, “St. Andrew’s was to plant mature trees in order to block the view of the tennis courts from the homeowners, block the lights, and add absorption and a pipeline re water run-off. The pipes are improperly constructed ... The trees that are planted are both few and far between and ‘pigmy-size’ compared with the towering fences which are visible on my property.”
The County Road resident attended the January council meeting and repeated his concerns to the five-member board. An attorney for the school and an official in charge of the buildings and grounds at St. Andrew’s shared their opinions regarding the complaint.
Stephanie Federico, a lawyer who represents the school, said Mr. DeAmorim’s complaints did not belong in front of the council. She said the school followed the construction plan for the new tennis courts “to the T.”
“If they felt there was a violation they could report it,” Ms. Federico said. “We have followed the plan.”
The school may have followed the plan, said some of the council members, but they failed to follow the “spirit” of the agreement made between the board and school leaders.
Bill DeWitt, a member of the council, said the plan appeared to include a wall of trees between the tennis courts and the neighboring property, but the details apparently fell short of that mark.
“I looked at the plan and saw a curtain of trees,” Mr. DeWitt said. “I heard someone who said (St. Andrew’s School) was a good neighbor and that’s not what I see.”
June Speakman, the council president, was equally critical of the school’s insistence on the fact that the plan was followed.
“You know what we on the council were trying to do. We were trying to make sure the neighbors would be happy with the deal. It was our intent there would be a curtain” of trees, she said.
“When you resort to the specifics ... you know better than that. You know what we were trying to accomplish.”
School officials said every tree that the plan called to be planted at the site was, in fact, planted. They said there was no effort to mislead anyone or upset neighbors.
Ms. Federico pointed out that the school and Mr. DeAmorim were locked in a property dispute.
“There is no amount that will ever make those neighbors happy,” Ms. Federico said.
The school reportedly filed a lawsuit against Mr. DeAmorim regarding a shed the County Road resident erected on the school’s property. A closer look at the structure shows that it appears to stand on the school’s land; Mr. DeAmorim said he built the shed to block off a fallen-down structure the school failed to remove.
According to plan
Alan Nunes, the school’s director of facilities, said the correct number of trees have been planted at the site. He told the council that he also measured each tree.
“All of that has been done in accordance with the plans. The fencing is 10-foot high chain link fence... The plan shows all of it. As far the sizing of the trees, we’re not going to go in there and plant 20-foot trees,” he said.
Arlene Violet, a former attorney general for the state and current Barrington resident, addressed the height of the trees, adding that they were supposed to be at least six feet tall.
“I know I’m a statuesque beauty, but they’re shorter than I am,” she said.
Ms. Violet then told the council to send out its own people, including members of the conservation commission, to examine the site. She said the council should not take the word of the school or the neighbors, but instead rely on the commission members.
“It’s a blight, what they did top those trees reduced the value of his (Mr. DeAmorim’s) property,” she said. “Go through the tape … listen to what was on the record and send out your people to report back to you.”
Ms. Speakman agreed with that idea, and town solicitor Michael Ursillo suggested the council table the conversation until its March meeting, after members of the conservation commission had time to visit the site.
The council agreed to that idea.
School responds to issue
Following is a response written by St. Andrew’s School Headmaster John Martin regarding the complaints over the buffer area surrounding the school’s new tennis courts:
“St. Andrew’s is confident that it followed the plan as approved by the Conservation Committee, the parties involved and the Town Council. In fact the Conservation Committee recently reviewed the plans concurring with the Town Officials that St. Andrew’s did indeed follow the plan. Nonetheless, sometimes reality differs from expectations and in this case the Town Council’s interpretation of the plan. St. Andrew’s is committed to being a good neighbor to the individuals who live near us and to the town as a whole. To that end we are willing to continue our work with the Conservation Committee to ensure that a resolution is reached that satisfies all interested parties. However, on advice of our attorney, amendments to our approved plan may not be addressed until the boundary issue involving an adverse possession claim by the neighbor has been resolved.”