Lighting plan for Staples field wins P&Z approval
Supporters of permanent lighting for the Staples High School football field appear to have finally reached the end zone.
After more than two years of litigation sparked by neighborhood objections to a 2009 zoning amendment designed allow field lights at the North Avenue school, the Planning and Zoning Commission on Thursday unanimously approved a stipulated judgment that settles a lawsuit filed against the proposal.
"This is a historic occasion," First Selectman Gordon Joseloff said Thursday. "Friday night football will soon become an important part of the community life in Westport."
Among its provisions, the agreement permits lighting until 10 p.m. for eight "athletic special events" each year at the Staples field, including football games. In addition, the stipulation allows lights to be used for playoff contests hosted by Staples' football squad, 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 are also eligible to play under the lights.
"As you move into November with Daylight Savings, you tend to be cutting your practices short because you run out of daylight," said Staples Athletic Director Marty Lisevick. "I think the lights will be a huge benefit for our fall teams."
Scheduling later game starts under the lights would also improve the crowd atmosphere at the Staples field, Lisevick said.
"Take, for example, a 4 p.m. field hockey game versus a 6 p.m. field hockey game under the lights," he said. "You're obviously going to have a much larger crowd for a 6 p.m. game where the parents can get out of work and watch the game."
The stipulated judgment, which must also be approved by a state Superior Court judge, ostensibly culminates a zoning and legal battle over permanent lighting at Staples that dates 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.
In addition to the P&Z's backing, the Board of Education had unanimously approved the settlement at a Nov. 7 meeting.
Other recent zoning decisions have also boosted plans for football field illumination. In 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 until 8 p.m., from Sept. 1 to Nov. 30.
Permanent lighting at Staples would be privately funded and cost approximately $300,000, according to Parks and Recreation Commission Chairwoman Janis Collins.
The Board of Education plans to submit a site plan and special permit application for Staples field lights for P&Z review early next year, according to board Chairman Don O'Day.
"When there's a Friday night football game, it's just so good for the community," O'Day said. "It just builds a sense of town. Only good things will come from this."