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Violation of Staples' field lighting rules likely to be forgiven

Published 8:45 am, Friday, February 15, 2013
  • The lights at Staples High School's stadium, shown in a final test last final, were used inadvertantly, according to the town attorney, for a football practice in November -- an event that should not penalize one of two Saturday night events planned at the athletic field in May. Photo: File Photo / Westport News
    The lights at Staples High School's stadium, shown in a final test last final, were used inadvertantly, according to the town attorney, for a football practice in November -- an event that should not penalize one of two Saturday night events planned at the athletic field in May. Photo: File Photo

 

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Despite a technical violation of the settlement of a lawsuit filed by neighbors against installation of lighting at Staples High School's stadium, which could have forced the town to cancel an event in May, the Staples Lighting Advisory Committee will likely look the other way this time and let the games go forward.

But a final decision lies with the town's zoning enforcement officer.

Town Attorney Bloom has advised the committee that a precedent will not be set if it to overlook a short Saturday football practice held under the lights last Nov. 24. The practice technically counted as one of the two Saturday "special events" under the lights allowed under the lawsuit settlement last year, thereby jeopardizing one of two activities already scheduled for May.

"At this point I'm going to talk to the other members of the committee and see if there's agreement about how we should proceed," said Maury Wind, the committee chairman and High Point Road neighbor of the stadium.

"I think the sense of the folks is that we don't want to jeopardize the kids' events," he said.

"The review committee can make its decision on this issue without any concern that it is setting a precedent," Bloom said.

"Both Elaine Whitney (the Board of Education chairwoman who previously served on the lighting committee) and I advised the review committee on November 26, 2012, that use of the lights on a Saturday by the football team ... was an error, since Saturday lights had already been used twice for the school year, which is the limit," Bloom said. "That advice has not changed."

Lighting at Staples stadium otherwise is illuminated only on Friday nights, when the varsity football team's games are played.

"The review committee will have to decide what to do with this Saturday football incident, which was an error, but which, in my opinion, was inadvertent," Bloom said. "The specific rules in the settlement agreement as to light use have been discussed again quite clearly with all parties."

"Any future incidents will also have to be evaluated individually," he said. "The entire idea of the review committee was to examine these incidents carefully and make sure they are resolved and do not happen again."

Bloom sent the letter recently to committee members outlining his view on the matter after the issue was raised as a violation of the agreement.

He wrote, "I should note that the review committee ... is empowered to meet and investigate ... but then refer to the zoning enforcement officer" issues of concern. At its last meeting the committee had questions as to what its authority encompassed regarding the unapproved Saturday nighttime practice.

"The committee has no authority to do anything ... so, as a committee, if we felt that something happened that shouldn't have ... we would take it to the zoning enforcement officer," Wind said.

"The review committee is empowered under the settlement agreement to investigate and make factual findings regarding any complaints ..." Bloom said. "The zoning enforcement officer is charged with enforcement of the lighting regulations and she may rely on the factual findings of the review committee."

According to Laurence Bradley, the town's planning and zoning director, the committee's role is to be the first group notified of potential infractions of the lawsuit settlement.

"If the committee feels it's a violation that needs to enforced, then they'll bring it to the zoning enforcement officials," he said.

Bradley said that, depending on the complaint, the department's "mechanisms" for dealing with it include issuing a notice of violation, a cease-and-desist order, or a zoning citation or fine. Following one of these three options, he said, a decision could be made to follow up with court action.

"But nobody's submitted anything to us," he said of the complaint about the nighttime football practice. "It's never been referred to us, so I really can't comment on the specifics of this incident."

Marty Lisevick, Staples' athletic director, said he is "very pleased with the decision."

"We're all trying to work together and make this a good situation for the kids and neighbors," he said.

In May, he said, "Lacrosse has got a doubleheader on the 15th, girls and boys, and we're trying to come up with a date for a girls' track meet, which would be a charity event."

"My instinct is that Ira's letter will settle this," Wind said. "It won't set a precedent and therefore people on the street won't try to use it."

"It was unfortunate that it happened, but based on this letter, I doubt it will happen again," he said.