At the request of the town of Matthews, the Matthews Athletic and Recreation Association has applied to rezone its 27-acre ballpark in the 1200 block of South Trade Street.
The zoning would change from RU (rural) to R/I (Residential/Institutional).
That parcel, or a portion of it, has been used for a ball field since 1956, before any zoning was in place.
MARA now offers 10 sports throughout the year on its 13 fields. In 2014, it served 2,200 players.
Matthews officials asked the nonprofit to seek the zoning change because, with the adoption of the Unified Development Ordinance several years ago, the RU district became obsolete.
That meant that if MARA ever wanted to change the layout or use of any part of its property, such as moving fields or adding parking, it could not be done under the obsolete zoning.
For the past nine months, MARA officials and the Matthews planning staff have worked on a site plan that would conform to the R/I zoning while allowing the organization to retain use of all its property, one of the major sticking points of the process.
The RU district required 20-foot side and rear buffers from adjacent property lines; the R/I district requires 50-foot buffers. If that requirement remained in place, MARA officials say, the organization would lose 8 percent of its land.
Before commissioners vote on the zoning request, the Matthews Board of Adjustment will consider several variances that, if approved, would grant MARA more latitude and enable it to keep full use of its land.
Cliff Boyd, a former MARA president, said the organization has spent about $80,000 on attorney fees, site-plan preparation, surveys and other expenses related to the proposed zoning; but, he said, if the zoning plans are approved, the site would have enough flexibility to serve the needs of MARA for the next 50 years or more.
“It’s been a long process,” Boyd said. “There’s been a lot of hard work by MARA and town staff, but the end product that we have created is a good one. It’s a solid, well-thought-out plan that sets us up well for the future.”
Boyd said the town and MARA have a long history of working together, and that, for the past several years, the organization has received a tourism grant from the town that has been mutually beneficial.
“Each year, we apply for a tourism grant and have to justify receiving the funds,” Boyd said. “We host events that draw tourists into Matthews. For example, last year we hosted the Cal Ripken Regional Ten U Southeast Conference that brought in more than $200,000 to local hotels, restaurants and shops.”
MARA should know the outcome of its zoning request by the end of March. The Matthews Board of Adjustments meets March 12 to discuss and vote on the variances necessary for the plan to move forward.
The Planning Board will discuss the plans at its March 17 meeting. The zoning will then be on the Board of Commissioners agenda for a decision March 23.
Melinda Johnston is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Melinda? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.