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A Superior Court judge blesses Groton Long Point's gaga pit

So just when we thought all the petty, selfish neighborly complaints around here originate in Stonington Borough, where residents have campaigned against the smell of fishing boats, the ringing of church bells and the bleat of the foghorn, along comes the gaga pit wars in Groton Long Point.

I will admit to having never heard of gaga pits until this week, when someone sent me a new decision from Superior Court Judge Emmet Cosgrove, in which he rejects the demands of some Groton Long Point residents who sued to shut down a gaga pit there because, essentially, the children playing in it were making too much noise.

I know, I know. It makes you long for complaints about foghorns and smelly fish.

A gaga pit, I have since learned, is a sophisticated form of dodge ball. It's played inside a circular rink, involves a small soft ball and is apparently wildly popular with kids — the more, the merrier in each game. I can't begin to explain the rules, but the bouncing of the ball does require some shouted notification, hence, I suppose, the noise complaints.

This particular pit was erected by the Groton Long Point Association in 2014, after a group of neighborhood children raised money with a bottle and can drive, close to $1,000, and used it to buy a pit kit, which they donated to the Groton Long Point Association.

The association accepted the gift and erected it on association land next to a lagoon and a volleyball court on Sound Breeze Drive.

The judge describes the ensuing fallout of neighbor complaints in great detail in his Sept. 4 decision, having learned the story while presiding over a three-day Superior Court trial in the lawsuit in May.

The pit was wildly popular from the start, the judge notes, and "those who played the game had great fun and filled the air with yells, shouts, and shrieks of excitement and happiness for long periods of time ... sometimes there would be 20 to 30 children or adults watching or playing the game at the same time."

Sounds great, right? Long summer days at the shoreline.

Then came the divide, the judge wrote, with some residents celebrating the popular new attraction and others lodging complaints with the association, calling police, attending meetings. A petition calling the noise "unreasonably invasive" got 93 signatures.

The judge concluded, having watched videos of the pit in action: "The sounds were of happy children with an occasional piercing shriek or scream."

The association did respond to complaints, limiting the use of the pit to the hours of 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and lining it with artificial turf to cut down on the dust and dirt that was blowing out of it. Trash cans also were put up nearby.

In a decision that should put Judge Cosgrove down over time as the Solomon of Groton Long Point, he rejected all the neighbors' claims of unreasonable noise, safety issues because children rode their bikes on busy roads to get to the pit, and lowered property values.

In the end, he found that the association was doing exactly one of the things it is meant to: improve opportunities for recreation in the shoreline community.

Some residents of Masons Island complain of people traveling through their community to attend programs by the Catholic Church. Some in Stonington Borough don't like the smell of fish or the sound of foghorns.

But complaints about the screams of happy children at play seem to be a new low for litigious residents of eastern Connecticut's peninsular communities.

Judge Cosgrove washes these complaints away with uncommonly good sense: "The popularity of the game with children over a broad range of ages is a positive. It creates an environment for independent competitive play."

"It gets them away from their computer screens," he said. "It is not reasonable to expect that children will use this facility without giving in to the sounds of happiness and excitement."

The world, after all, could use a lot more of that.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


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