Raising the temporary lights to 10 more feet at Darien High School and at Holahan Field for late fall nighttime practice should reduce the amount of light that bothers nearby neighbors because the lights can be pointed down further, officials from a town football league have told the .
No, said some neighbors, the higher lights would produce glare that would inevitably bother some nearby residents, just as the present lights have.
The Darien Junior Football League is asking that the P&Z change the town's lighting regulation from allowing a maximum height of 20 feet for temporary lights at sports fields to 30 feet, although it would still be within the commission's discretion on whether to allow each use.
The league also wants to renew its own permit for lights at two fields in town—one at Darien High School, the other at the Holahan Fields behind Town Hall.
Some P&Z Commission members at a public hearing Tuesday voiced strong sympathy with the neighbors. Commission Vice Chairman John Spain and others and pointed out that the commission generally takes a protective view of neighbors when lighting proposals are brought before it.
"Why should they [the neighbors] take a financial bullet like this?" Commission Chairman Frederick Conze said, referring to lower house values that he said would result from higher lights.
Answering that question, Joseph H. Hardison, a supporter of the lights and a member of the Representative Town Meeting, said that when the neighbors decided to move close to a high school they should have expected some inconveniences—even new ones.
Susan Cameron, a member of the commission, said that people in town who want the lights are in a similar position—they moved into a town without high lights on playing fields and have every reason to expect that inconvenience.
The football league and town propose to use the lights in the early evenings in October and November for about 30 hours over the course of about 20 weeknights of sports practice. School teams would use the lights starting on the first Monday of November.
Others pointed out that league and school officials have said the current lighting is safe, not unsafe, so safety should not be considered a dire issue. League supporters countered that they want the fields to be safer for their children, which must be an important consideration.
But Tom Mercein, who coached eighth grade football players last year, said that the eighth grade coaches and parents "took it upon ourselves to rent field time at Sono [Field House] because we did not think it was safe" to practice at night at the high school.
Replying to the point that better lighting of the fields is a "nice to have," not a "need to have" for the town, Mercein said, "It's a 'nice to have' to the extent that it's nice to have our kids not get hurt."
Conze suggested that the football league and school district invest in better technology that could direct lights better. Jim Coley, presidet of the of the football league, said the group doesn't have the money for a large investment in high-end lighting technology. Superintendent of Schools Stephen Falcone said the school officials could consider that option.
In order to keep lights from shining into nearby homes, school officials and football league volunteers have put the lights on the east side of the field and pointed them west, toward the high school building from the far side of the field.
But Walter "Bud" Raleigh, a resident of Middlesex Road near the high school, told the board that even with the lights pointed that way, some neighbors to the north and south still get plenty of glare "from four 1,000-watt lights, mounted on each of the six towers [...]
"If you’ve driven the Merritt Parkway late on a dark night and seen a lone car heading toward you, several hundred yards away, with its high beams on, you understand what glare is," he said.
Trees have been planted to reduce the light, but they haven't yet grown to their full height, so they block less of it now than they will in the future. With lights raised 10 feet higher, they'll block even less of it, some neighbors told the board.
Raleigh said shielding the lights to keep the bulbs or elements from being seen at a distance would still serve the players while protecting the neighbors.
But Coley said that the owners of the lights that the league and town now rent for the fields have said "unequivocally" that putting shields on the lights would increase glare, not decrease it.
No one who spoke at the meeting denied that Darien is the only community in the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference without very tall, permanent lights, often as high as 80 feet, illuminating some school playing fields.
No one disputed that the town's school fields are all located close to neighboring homes, although some said the situation wasn't much different in other communities.
Commission member Reese Hutchison said that when he visited neighboring properties at one point when the lights were on, "I didn't see a dramatic increase from a distance," when some of the lights were temporarily raised to 30 feet, as a test.
Hutchison also repeated a point made by the football league: "From a purely geometric standpoint, the taller the (light) cone and the further the distance, you're able to focus the light," meaning the target of a light—part of the football field—would get illuminated with less light going anywhere else. It was pointed out at the meeting that newer highway lights on Interstate 95 in Darien seem to operate on that principle.