Youth football seeks to raise lights from 20 feet to 30

Shedding light on a subject is often a good thing, but in Darien, it has been a cause of concern for neighbors of the high school who don’t want field lights invading their homes.

But that hasn’t stopped advocates from trying harder to make sure that sports teams can actually see the field they’re playing on during the fall and winter months, when sunlight is scarce. So the Darien Junior Football League has proposed a zoning ordinance amendment to allow temporary lights to be raised from 20 feet to 30 feet.

John Sini, the football league’s lights chairman, told The Darien Times that at the Board of Education meeting on Wednesday, he discussed the prospect of lengthening the contract with Planning & Zoning to five years instead of three, the current contract having ended this year. They also talked about using the lights earlier in the season.

Sini emphasized that the ordinance would benefit all of town, and not just the football league and the high school teams.

The schools tested raising the lights to 30 feet in 2010 to determine if it would affect the neighbors. Environmental consulting firm, Hygenix, conducted the test, and concluded that “the amount of trespass light from the six operating light towers was insignificant in comparison with the influence of moonlight on November 17, 2010.”

Hygenix also noted that “no significant difference in readings was recorded when the light poles were raised and the lights were pointed downward.”

The proposed amendment keeps the maximum height of permanent lights at 20 feet, but allows for temporary lighting to be placed 10 feet higher.

Bud Raleigh, a neighbor who has been vocal regarding his concern over the lights, has stated he was happy with the current set-up, but warned against changes.

Limiting “20-foot lights to weekdays in a few weeks in November is critical in maintaining peace within the neighborhood we share,” Raleigh wrote in an email to Dr. Stephen Falcone, superintendent of schools. “I trust that no one is contemplating placing the lights higher than 20 feet for more than one night test each season.”

Sini said he understood such concerns, but that he and others have worked hard to ensure that raising the lights would not harm the neighbors. “The data shows that 30-foot lights have a beneficial impact to the safety of the players on the football field, with no negative impact to the surrounding area, as evidenced by the environmental impact study,” Sini told The Times.

In 2011, the lights were on from Nov. 7 to Nov. 11 for a total of 24 hours. The permit allows the schools to use the lights beginning on the first weekday after Daylight Saving Time ends, and lasts until the fall sports seasons are over. Lights are supposed to be turned off by 6, although the junior football league can to play until 7 under a separate P&Z agreement.

The schools placed curtains on windows to prevent glare on neighboring homes, and considered attaching shields to lights to prevent ambient dispersal, although a consultant informed the schools that they would need to double the number of lights to get the same luminosity from shielded lights as they do now with six unshielded lights.

Lights on the high schools stadium field has been a longtime source of contention since the original proposal for permanent lights in 2006. A compromise was reached with the neighbors for a pilot program of practice lights in 2008.

Fred Conze, Planning & Zoning Commission chairman, declined to comment on the football league’s zoning amendment proposal, as the commission has not yet discussed it publicly.

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