Plans for Preston indoor soccer, softball facility challenged

Preston - The owner of Fleming's Plaza on Route 165 plans to build a 44,000-square-foot indoor soccer complex on adjacent commercial land at the corner of Route 165 and Wininger Drive, but the owner of an existing similar facility in Norwich has filed an objection on environmental grounds.

Peter Fleming, owner of Fleming's Feed and Hardware and a neighboring child care center on Wininger Drive, hopes to construct a long, metal 30-foot tall building that could accommodate two indoor soccer fields or three youth softball fields, as well as a concession stand and batting cages.

Fleming said he developed the concept after attending softball games throughout the Northeast to see his 13-year-old daughter's travel team play.

Fleming hopes to attract soccer teams, leagues and tournaments for all ages and indoor youth softball leagues and tournaments for players up to age 18.

"It's a shrunken-down version of real softball, but it gives full pitching, hitting, infield and coaching," Fleming said. "The only thing reduced a little is the length of the outfield."

The center field wall would be 165 feet from home plate, versus about 200 feet at many youth softball fields.

A future second phase would add a 200-by-400-foot multi-use outdoor field east of the building, and a 150-by-200-foot outdoor soccer field at the Route 165 front of the property.

Fleming hopes to open the complex by next spring, but the permitting process grew complicated when Henry Bowers, owner of Summit Fitness and Sports in the Norwich Business Park, filed to become an intervener in the wetlands permitting process.

Bowers insisted his objection is not because Fleming's complex could compete with Summit Sports, which last fall opened an indoor soccer facility. He said he has been involved in environmental protection issues for the past 30 years and is especially concerned about bogs.

"Just because it might become a competing business doesn't mean it's bad," Bowers of Windham said. "That's not why I'm intervening. I'm intervening for environmental reasons."

Fleming's project currently is being reviewed by the Preston Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission, but no work or stormwater discharge would be done within the regulated 100-foot buffer zone surrounding the wetland and bog on the southeast portion of the property.

Fleming's engineers told the wetlands commission at its June 17 meeting that the building would be 335 feet from the wetlands, and the stormwater discharge point would be 280 feet from the wetlands. Because of the distances, Fleming asked the commission for a "declaratory ruling for no regulated activities."

At the same meeting, soil scientist George Logan, hired by Bowers, told the commission that the bog is a "notable" state resource listed on the Connecticut Natural Diversity Database and should be protected. He presented aerial photos taken of the bog in 1965, 1970 and in the 1980s that showed that the bog has shrunken over the years.

The commission agreed with Logan's recommendation that the town hire an independent soil and wetlands scientist - the $2,000 fee paid by Fleming - to review Fleming's storm runoff and soil erosion plan and report to the commission.

The commission also asked Fleming for a 65-day extension of the time period to review and act on his plan.

If the wetlands commission approves the plan, it would go to the Planning and Zoning Commission for a site development plan review. Town Planner Kathy Warzecha said the project is in a commercial zone and no PZC public hearing would be required.

Fleming said he has agreed to the wetlands commission's added requirements but called Bowers' intervention business related rather than environmental.

"The motivation is obvious," Fleming said. "The man's not concerned about the wetlands. He's concerned about his business. We are forced to react to the intervener, and the board is forced to react to it. We have agreed to the extra things. Hopefully (the wetlands commission) will see through this guy."

c.bessette@theday.com

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