Debate continues whether to install temporary lights at DHS
About 70 people gathered at the Town Hall Auditorium Tuesday night for a public hearing before the Planning & Zoning Commission to listen to and participate in discussion about portable lights at the Darien High School Stadium Field. The hearing addressed special permit applications put forth by the Darien Board of Education and the Darien Junior Football League, which asks for six 20-foot lights to be temporarily placed at the stadium for four weeks in November.
The meeting, which is a continuation of a public hearing opened on Sept. 8, began at 8 p.m., with presentations from Bruce Hill, on behalf of the Darien Public Schools Board of Education and various members of the DJFL, all of which addressed previously raised concerns to the proposed plan.
DJFL President Dick Albu spent several minutes outlining the importance of safety in the youth football league, which uses the Darien High School Stadium Field for practices and games.
"The DJFL's primary objective in its application is to provide safe, effective practice environment for our town's youth football players by artificial creating the same amount of light for practice time in November that exists in September," Albu said. The absence of lights can lead to unsafe conditions for practice, or having to forego practices, which can increase a child's chances of being injured in a game, according to Albu.
Cava represents about 40 DHS neighbors from approximately 20 households who are against the placement of lights on the property. Among the main concerns of these residents is a reduction in property value, an increase of noise after dark during practice times and "lights creep," according to Cava.
"We're concerned about the way you come in one year for a test for a few days, and the next year you come back for temporary lights, but you don't put a time limit on the duration of the permit," Cava said. "When I tried to convey that, I was immediately shut down as being silly. But yet, here we are, as soon as their application was filed for lights, the DJFL filed for an application, so I guess there is such a thing as `lights creep.' The more you get, the more you want; the more you want, the more you need."
Cava presented his clients' concerns and cited several articles in the town's zoning regulations, which he said make it impossible for the Planning & Zoning Commission to grant the application for special lighting.
At about 10:30 p.m., after the presentations and follow-up questions from members of the P&Z, the floor was opened to members of the public. About a dozen of the original audience members had left the during the two-and-half hours since the beginning of the meeting. Four community members came to the podium to speak, one at a time; all four were in favor of using lights on the field.
"The noise element, from 6 to 7:30. `All is quiet?' You know, if there's whistles being blown, or people yelling, or practices being performed, that is music to, I would think, most people's ears," said Minicus, who's also the head coach of the DHS field hockey team. "I don't think anywhere in this town is it dead quiet at 6 to 7:30 that we can hear the great sounds of kids practicing their sports."
She also said she supported the use of lights as a safety mechanism.
"I support the DJFL's request to piggyback off the temporary lights from the DHS, because I worry about the safety of our children. My oldest son is playing tackle football for the first time. He is a sixth grader. With every practice, he has learned how to tackle better, how to take tackles better and how to block better. To enter weekend games with no practice during the week to me seems foolish and dangerous," she said. "I think I speak on behalf of all the moms in this town who perhaps feel as though they don't have a voice."
Tom Lochtefeld, who lives on Hedge Row, also voiced his support of installing the temporary lights. He is a coach as well as a commuter. He said pushing practices earlier in the day can burden the schedules of both coaches and athletes.
"I think that if we could keep a consistent practice time from 6 to 7:30 all the time, then kids could actually schedule an activity before their practice, such as piano lessons or whatever," he said.
The P&Z's general meeting began after public at about 11 p.m. During the meeting, the commission unanimously granted a special permit application submitted by the DJFL for installing lights at Holahan Field. The DJFL will install three temporary lights at the field for weekday practices as part of a one-year trial program.