Let there be lights: Final OK for Staples field
After years of legal and zoning disputes, Friday night lights will finally illuminate the Staples High School gridiron this fall.
The Planning and Zoning Commission on Thursday unanimously approved a site plan and special permit proposed by Westport public schools, which allows installation of permanent lighting fixtures at the Staples football field.
The approved site plan is based on a stipulated judgment that the town settled last November with a group of residents after they filed a lawsuit against the town in response to a 2009 zoning amendment approved by the P&Z allowing field lights at Staples. Among its provisions, the agreement permits lighting until 10 p.m. for eight "athletic special events" each year at Staples, including football games. In addition, the stipulation allows lights to be used for playoff contests hosted by Staples' football team, weekday practices until 8 p.m., as well as two Saturday events. Other Staples sports teams, such as the soccer, field hockey and lacrosse squads will also be eligible to play under the lights.
The stipulated judgment brought an end to a zoning and legal battle over permanent lighting at Staples that dated back to the late 1970s. In addition to the settled lawsuit, disputes over field lighting have also gone to the town's Zoning Board of Appeals.
Most of the plaintiffs in the latest lighting case reside on High Point Road, which intersects Long Lots Road to the east of Staples.
A handful of football games have been played at Staples with temporary lights. But permanent fixtures have never been installed at the school's football stadium, which accommodates about 2,000 spectators.
The permanent fixtures at the Staples field will include two 80-foot light poles on the side of the field closest to the school's fieldhouse and two 70-foot light poles on the other side of the gridiron.
Only a handful of residents attended Thursday's meeting. High Point Road resident Suzie Im was the only audience member to comment on the lighting plan, as she inquired about the review process for addressing possible noise complaints that Staples' neighbors may have.
"Whenever there's a game, it's so noisy to the point that when I'm inside my living room it actually sounds like there's a huge keg party going on next door," she said. "I'm just worried that if I do have a complaint how quickly will my complaint be met?" The town will set up a review committee, which will include residents from the Staples neighborhood, to address any complaints related to evening use of the high school's field, said Town Attorney Ira Bloom.
Permanent lighting will be installed at the Staples field around the end of the current school year and is expected to be ready for use for Staples' first home football game this fall, Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon told the Westport News after Thursday's hearing.
The new lighting fixtures at Staples will cost approximately $350,000 to install and be funded entirely by private donors, Landon added.
Field lighting is already used at 12 of the 18 athletic venues used by teams in the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference, in which the Staples football squad competes.
Other recent zoning decisions have allowed football field illumination at other Westport athletic venues. Last September, the P&Z approved a text amendment proposed by the Parks and Recreation Department that permits temporary lighting at town athletic fields. That zoning package facilitated the P&Z's endorsement of a related site plan that allows Westport Police Athletic League football teams to practice weekdays at the Peter "PJ" Romano Field on Riverside Avenue from Sept. 1 to Nov. 30., until 8 p.m.
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