Opinions clash on Middlebrook sports lights
Monday’s Planning & Zoning Commission meeting proved the Wilton community is sharply divided on the subject of new lighting regulations. A large outpouring of citizens, both in support of and against the liberalization of lighting regulations, came to a Sept. 23 public hearing to express their opinions.
Sentiment regarding the proposed change occupied multiple tracks: those in favor of increased lighting at Middlebrook field, those opposed to increased lighting at Middlebrook field, and those opposed to liberalized lighting regulations in general.
Acting as an applicant on behalf of Wilton Youth Football, Field Hockey, and Lacrosse earlier this month, the Gregory & Adams law firm filed a request to change current town zoning regulations as they relate to athletic field lighting. This request is identified by the commission as REG#13341.
At the request’s public hearing on Monday, Casey Healy, a representative of Gregory & Adams, told the Planning & Zoning Commission that he and his clients felt Wilton’s lighting regulations should allow for the proper, professional, lighting of athletic facilities.
“The town already has existing regulations that include outdoor lighting standards,” he said. “But, those standards are really designed for other establishments. The regulations are adequate for a commercial parking lot, but do not meet industry standards for lighting athletic fields.”
The law firm hopes to change regulations so that 80-foot athletic light poles would be allowed on public property, or private property used institutionally, in any residential zone.
Though the request to change lighting regulations is not site specific, representatives of Wilton youth sports groups at the meeting made it clear there was a motive behind their desire to change the regulations: increased lighting at the Middlebrook School football field.
The president of Wilton Youth Field Hockey, Jennifer Kendra, told the commission Wilton children are hard-pressed to find suitable field time in town. She, and the 240 families she represents, she said, believe improving Middlebrook field would decrease their need to practice at other fields with lights late into the night.
“What we are talking about is a change to what is already currently approved,” the president of Wilton Youth Field Hockey told the commission. “There are already lights on the field, and those lights are already more intrusive. The light and noises are already there. By improving this site, we will be able to use less light more efficiently. We would love to not be out at 9:30 at night with fifth and sixth graders.”
Whether or not the lights currently at Middlebrook School field are “approved,” as Ms. Kendra said, is an unanswered question.
Not all residents felt an improved field would make for a less intrusive one. Will Paddy, of 174 Ridgefield Road, told the commission he already has to deal with the possibly illegal lighting at Middlebrook field, and worried about its increased use.
“Every year that we’ve lived here, youth football has used the lights three months of the year, so we never made a big stink about it. Now, it’s going to be able to be used 12 months out of the year. I do not understand why we are not able to get our kids on the field [without additional lighting]. We have the facilities, we have the fields. Other towns are able to manage it. Somehow we aren’t able to manage it. It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense,” he said.
Other residents echoed the concerns of Mr. Paddy, telling the commission the number of lighting facilities in Wilton is already high enough.
An unverified statistical survey undertaken by Anthony LoFrisco, and his associate, Beck Parker, showed that Wilton had the highest number of lighted facilities when compared to every other Fairfield County town, regardless of population.
He said his associate pulled this data “from phone conversations and what is listed on municipal websites. Even if you took the Middlebrook field out, we’d still have more lighted facilities than any other town. [Gregory & Adams’s] consultant went far afield to make comparisons; to Illinois, or Arizona, or wherever. But, this is very close to home; there is a relevant issue for us to resolve,” he said.
Tall light advantages
To address these concerns, Gregory & Adams was joined by representatives of Musco Lighting. The lighting company rep claimed a change in town regulations allowing for higher light poles would actually reduce light spilling into neighbor’s backyards.
Using a four-point plan, Andrew Dyjack, of Musco Lighting, explained this point.
“Our goal is to reduce spill and glare onto adjoining property, and ensure safe play on the field. To do this, we take into account a visor, optometric design, mounting height, and an appropriate fixture count.
“The only way to ensure the visor and optometric design work properly,” he continued “is a proper mounting height. Increased mounting height actually decreases the spill and glare.”
With the proper height, he claimed, his company could easily make light spill as low as 0.5 foot-candles at the property line.
“At 0.5 foot-candles you can barely tie your shoes,” he said.
Mr. LoFrisco said “cute” regulations like the one proposed by Gregory & Adams are “seldom successful” because they are written to afford a solution to a single construction plan.
“It’s too cute because they’re trying to ride this regulation towards getting the Middlebrook field through planning and zoning. We shouldn’t destroy the lighting and zoning requirements to accommodate these sorts of things.”
John McDermott, of 11 Hunting Ridge Lane, is a Wilton Youth Football coach who lives “five houses away” from the Middlebrook field. He said those people like Mr. LoFrisco who were opposed to changing the zoning regulations were “disingenuous” in claiming they were trying to “maintain the integrity of planning and zoning laws.”
“We need to be more upfront with what we are actually talking about,” he said. “The quality of the fields and the support from their community is important for the kids and helps the whole town.”
Liberalization of regulations
While Mr. Paddy and Mr. LoFrisco live near the school, and disagree with the proposed regulations on a site-specific level, another contingent of the opposition was simply opposed to any liberalization of regulations, regardless of location.
Arthur Lederman, of Ambler Lane, told the commission he worried there was an agenda behind the scenes seeking to exploit the zoning regulations.
“Who has made any case that this town needs any additional lighting? Where do we have a need? Someone has, in the back of his mind, a use for this regulation change. Who wants this? Where are all of these little groups coming to say ‘Oh, we need this’? I would like to know what the agenda is,” he said.
Dean Price, of DeForest Road, has lived in Wilton since 1959. He said that over the years, he had seen many changes in town, “some for the better, some for the worse.”
Mr. Price’s concerns about the new regulations, he said, had little to do with the Middlebrook field.
“I used to coach Little League and Pop Warner football in Wilton. If it’s a place like Middlebrook, I won’t argue with the fact that the kids need to be safe. I’m concerned with what was brought up before. What’s to stop my neighbor who likes to throw late parties from putting up stadium lights?”
Many members of the audience who opposed liberalized lighting regulations asked that, if this regulation change is to be considered, two things be done. They asked the commission to write the regulations themselves, rather than deciding on an interested party’s regulations, and that they be made significantly “tighter” than the regulations proposed by Gregory & Adams.