Top 10 stories of 2016: #3 — High school stadium lights move forward as last year goes dark

lightsbrigadeThe effort to put stadium lights in at DHS has had the feel of pushing Sisyphus’s rock. Over and over again the idea is put forward, progresses mildly, but ultimately is defeated. The 2016 iteration of the discussion however, seems finally be making it over the hump.

It was March 9 when Superintendent Dr. Dan Brenner presented the Board of Education with a revised master plan for the district, and the plan included stadium lights. The board looked favorably upon the recommendation for lights, along with a number of other infrastructure projects.

In May, Brenner revealed further details on the plan for stadium lights installation and use. It was at that time that Selectman Rob Richards joined the fray, acting as a proxy for a group of neighbors living nearby DHS. The neighbors had specific requests for rules and procedures regarding the lights, and Brenner would agree to nearly all of them, while offering compromise as well. In mid June, there was a presentation at the Board of Education on behalf of the neighbors given by Lennis Koontz and Albertus Van Den Broek, both long time Darien residents with connections to athletics. The presentation highlighted, point by point, specifics regarding use, noise levels, specific cut off times, and security and safety. It also made clear that the neighbors were in agreement with Brenner and the board on all the major points regarding lights use, and the process looked promising to advance.

The advancement would come a month later in July, when the Board unanimously approved the stadium lights proposal, sending it on to the Planning & Zoning Commission. At the time, Brenner, along with Athletic Director Chris Manfredonia, also offered that specific guidelines regarding sound were still to come, but that the new sound was quieter than the old stadium, which was already in compliance with state regulations. Paul Michalski was present at the meeting and questioned the legitimacy of what the process, saying to the board, “It just doesn’t feel right,” Michalski said, “and for you to amend the agenda to take action feels wrong. It doesn’t even feel legal.”

Michalski continued, “Whether or not it’s legal, it’s wrong, and I’d like to formally object to the legitimacy of the vote,” as he urged the board to put off a vote until late August. Regardless, the lights have moved forward to Planning and Zoning.

Planning & Zoning is where the discussion currently resides. Michalski again voiced disapproval for the process recently in front of the commission, still saying there was not enough specificity in the plan. Meanwhile other neighbors living adjacent to the school have voiced their support for the lights.

The lights, however, continue to see a massive amount of support from residents all over Darien. The Darien Lights Brigade has been organized to take on the fundraising for the lights, and currently is more than halfway to the goal. The Darien Athletic Foundation continues to work to raise money and awareness for the project. Barring significant setbacks or legal issues, the plan for the lights is to be installed for the 2017-18 school year.

The Planning & Zoning Commission is expected to continue discussion and possibly make a decision at its next meeting on Tuesday, Jan 10 at 8 p.m.

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