New residents of wealthy NJ town sue to stop established youth baseball club
BERNARDS — For decades, youth baseball has been played at the local ball fields in Bernards Township, along Valley Road.
The land is leased by a nonprofit, volunteer organization, which entirely covers maintenance and operating expenses for the four playing fields — with thousands of kids coming through as athletes.
By 2021, a nearby wooded area was cleared out. Five brand-new homes were built on Fenwick Place — each of them a five-bedroom, six-bathroom single family property, each listed at well over a million dollars.
In December, the Bernards Township Committee renewed the Ridge Baseball Club lease at the park for 20 years.
Now those five new households and three other neighboring properties are suing the town, upset with the seasonal activities of youth baseball at the fields they live across from.
The homes and the fields are in the Basking Ridge community, within Bernards Township in the Somerset Hills region of Somerset County.
The lawsuit says that in the past 20 years, “Ridge Baseball has increased the intensity of the baseball use of the Property, by increasing the size of the fields; adding field lights, a public address system, batting cages along Valley Road, and an illuminated scoreboard.
Plaintiffs, including Brian Krawitz, who owns one of the new houses and is president of the Fenwick Basking Ridge Homeowners Association, have said in their lawsuit that increased use of the fields at the property, including last fall's pilot season and tournaments played there, have amounted to a public nuisance.
“Ridge Baseball Club is appalled by the actions of these residents and plans to fight this lawsuit for the benefit of the children in our community,” RBC President Kevin Larner said in a written statement after the suit was filed on Jan. 26.
In an interview with New Jersey 101.5, Larner said that as the current 20-year lease was set to expire in May, the club and township have been working since last year to solidify a new, 20-year lease extension.
He said the use of the field's lights during this past fall season appears to be among the biggest areas of contention.
"There has been a demand in the community to have fall baseball. In 2004...sports were different, youth sports were more seasonal," Larner said, adding that the first fall season was a success, with no public complaints.
“RBC worked diligently with the Township Committee over the course of more than 10 months and agreed to delay the Ordinance for nearly four months so the plaintiffs’ concerns could be properly explored. Unfortunately, our good faith agreement to directly address the primary concerns raised by these residents – batting cage noise and field light glare – wasn’t enough,” Larner continued in the club's written statement.
While the other three properties did not show up as sold in public property records, homeowners for each are listed in the complaint filed in court.
Larner said some of those homes remain under construction.
An email from New Jersey 101.5 to the plaintiffs' attorney, asking for comment on the purchase of the new houses as the ball fields were already being used, was not immediately returned on Friday.
Homes on adjacent roads in the township are largely valued at between $1 million and $2 million each.
The lawsuit also involves three sets of longer-time neighboring property owners - residents of a Wedgewood Drive house last sold in 1992, as well as two smaller homes on Valley Road directly across from the complex, last purchased in 2003 and 2017.
Larner said the response and support from the community at large has been overwhelming.
"I've been getting messages from people across the community, supporting us, and asking what they can do to help — and really outraged by this."
He said volunteers have been working — amid the distraction of the lawsuit — to have things ready for Opening Day of youth baseball in Basking Ridge this April.