Room A of the Town Hall Annex was again full for the Planning and Zoning Commission’s meeting on Sept. 15.
Members of the public, including residents, parents, coaches and youth athletes showed up once more to voice their opinions for or against Wilton Youth Football’s application to renovate Middlebrook Field’s natural grass to artificial turf.
This time, the public hearing was closed and deliberations were continued to the commission’s next meeting on Sept. 28.
Casey Healy, attorney with Gregory & Adams, addressed the comments and questions raised by commissioners at the last meeting, and then introduced Andrew Dyjak, a field sales representative with Musco Lighting, who presented plans for a network of eight 30-foot lighting poles with shielded LED (light-emmitting diode) bulbs that could be remotely operated by smart phone.
According to Healy in 2013, the present lighting system does not meet the current standards for playing fields.
Musco Lighting’s last application was denied because the proposed poles were too tall — at 70 feet.
Wilton Youth Football applied to change the town’s regulations in 2013 to allow 80-foot athletic lights on all town-owned fields and was denied. Wilton Youth Football had gained a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals, but that variance was struck down by a Stamford Superior Court judge in February of this year.
“At that point in time,” said Dyjak, “we were not able to produce a lighting system that was safe and could produce enough light at a 30-foot level.”
“LED technology can be used at a lower mounting height,” he said.
Anthony LoFrisco of Cider Mill Place, a lawyer by profession, conducted an unofficial “cross-examination” of Dyjak, and pointed out that the parcel of land Dyjak used to calculate the light intensity of the system he was proposing was only a small portion of the 109-acre property at 131 School Road that considered only Middlebrook School and the immediately surrounding area.
Taking things further, Commissioner Joe Fiteni expressed concern that Dyjak only counted Musco’s lights towards the total intensity output, neglecting to factor in the others on the property, such as those in the parking lot and on the school.
Questions asked by commissioners covered sanitation, toxicity, concerns with the extreme heat of crumb-rubber infill and even the effect the proposed lighting might have on bird migration patterns.
Commissioner Franklin Wong said he would have “less of a problem” with the application if the field was to be used exclusively by athletic organizations that could potentially waive liability in case someone is burned or otherwise injured by the new material.
Of the members of the public who made comments, the majority were in favor of approval. Jeff Farrar of Scarlett Oak Drive, Chris Silva of Mcfadden Drive, Joyce Andersen of Forge Road, Ryan Masterson of Chestnut Hill Road, Matt Zeyher of Catalpa Road and president of the Wilton Lacrosse Association David Cook of Stonebridge Road spoke for the turfing, while Christina and Woodson Duncan of Middlebrook Farm Road, Frank Simone of Charter Oak Drive, LoFrisco of Cider Mill Place and Paul Sobel, the attorney representing William Patty of Ridgefield Road, stood against it.
The last to speak was Cook, who apologized for being silent up to this point and said he thought of the addition of another turf field to the town of Wilton as a mark of forward progress.
“Once and for all,” he began, “these fields are all used in the same manner today, so any decisions you make about the viability of one field versus another — there’s three fields, not one. I think that’s a really important point, because, as far as I understand, the job of the Planning and Zoning Commission is to look at the application that’s been presented and decide whether it meets the rules and regulations of the planning and zoning books that this town abides by. And when we start getting into, ‘what about these other fields?’ — that’s a little bit of a bigger question, and I’m not sure who’s supposed to address that. But that’s why I’m here tonight, to ask for your approval. I represent 850 kids-plus who play lacrosse. That’s over 500 families. The addition of another turf field is progress for the town. And when I look at what’s going on — it’s really important that we always move forward, and that is actually what this field will allow us to do. We’ve already had some issues with some fields in the spring, and (this) field is going to allow us to potentially not have those issues. At the end of the day, it’s actually been quite enjoyable to see the democratic process in place, but I do ask for your approval so we can get on to the next step, because it has been a long process.”
Before the hearing was closed, Comiskey made a sobering comment.
“This is my eighth year, either on Planning and Zoning or ZBA, and I’ve never had an application put before either board that gives me so much doubt.”
With that, Commission Chair Chris Hulse motioned to close the public hearing, and was seconded by Vice Chair Sally Poundstone. All voted in favor but Wong. Commissioner Bas Nabulsi was absent from the meeting.
According to Town Planner Bob Nerney, the Planning and Zoning Commission has a maximum of 65 days to pass a resolution.