Update: Light regulation is denied

At Monday night’s meeting of the Planning & Zoning Commission, the members voted 5-2 to deny the implementation of a regulation change that would have allowed 80-foot lights to be installed at any athletic field on town-owned school property.

Commissioners Mike Rudolph, John Wilson, Lori Bufano, Bas Nabulsi, and Doris Knapp voted against approval of the regulation. Commissioners Peter Shiue and Chris Hulse voted in favor of approval.

With this denial, proponents of increased lighting at Middlebrook Middle School will have no choice but to fight for the right to light with the Zoning Board of Appeals, where a previously approved variance was recently remanded by the Connecticut Superior Court.

The months-long zoning process involving applications seeking to change lighting regulations — REG#13341 and REG#13340 — was often contentious as residents argued emotionally some for increased lighting and others for “preserving Wilton’s character.”

Wilton Youth Football, Field Hockey, and Lacrosse were the groups that initially submitted a regulation change application through the Gregory and Adams law firm, which was withdrawn due to a technicality. Eric Dean, the applicant for a subsequent request, is a member of Wilton Youth Football.

By the final meeting of the zoning board, the majority of the commissioners came to the conclusion that the proposed regulation change was not in the town’s best interest.

“We want this use for the kids,” Mr. Rudolph said, “but we also want the neighbors to be considered in this decision.”

For Mr. Rudolph, the application submitted by Mr. Dean did not provide a “satisfactory basis to determine the height the fixtures need to be, and the kind of light it has to be.”

Mr. Wilson agreed with Mr. Rudolph, saying that while he accepts that  the town needs a new turf field, he felt the applicant did not do a sufficient job in providing enough information for him “to make an educated decision.”

Mr. Nabulsi expressed a similar sentiment, noting that this vote was not meant to be a vote “against” a new turf field in Wilton.

“I’m leaning towards denial for the reasons in the draft legislation,” he said. “It’s important to realize this is not a vote against turfing the field or anything else.”

Those commissioners in favor of the regulation change, Mr. Shiue and Mr. Hulse, felt those worries were unwarranted.

“I believe that this would improve the situation at Middlebrook,” Mr. Hulse said. And “each field has to be individually approved. This isn’t a blank check. I’m leaning towards approval.”

Mr. Shiue echoed those comments, saying he also believed the regulation change did not constitute a blank check.

“I think there are enough safeguards,” he said.

Zoning Board of Appeals

Wilton Youth Sports will now have to gain a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals in order to construct lights on the Middlebrook School property.

The groups had received a variance allowing 70-foot lights in 2012, but that decision was appealed by Anthony F. LoFrisco and four additional Wilton residents.

The plaintiff’s attorney, Paul Sobel of Green and Gross, said the judge in the variance case “upheld LoFrisco’s appeal, and sent the matter back to ZBA for the ZBA to restate their reason for granting the variance in an acceptable manner, and to make the findings they are required to make under the zoning regulations.”

According to Mr. Sobel, the judge remanded the case back to the ZBA because he could not understand “the reason they supported the variance … he couldn’t review it because he didn’t understand the resolution.”

This was only a half-victory for Mr. Sobel’s client, as he and Mr. LoFrisco had initially challenged the variance on more substantial grounds. The suit originally claimed the ZBA approved the variance in the absence of a legally recognizable “unusual hardship.”