Expanded hours, lights, but no noise test for Darien high school field, officials vote

DARIEN — After months of debate over neighborhood disturbances, the Darien High School stadium lights will shine later and longer under a new special permit.

At a special meeting this week, the Planning and Zoning Commission approved the request from the Board of Education allowing for expanded use of the lights and public announcement system at Darien High School.

Under the expanded permit, the high school is allowed to use the lights for practices, games and other town events until 9 p.m. on weeknights and 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Lights are also allowed to extend beyond the curfew in the event of game delays, emergencies or unforeseen circumstances.

One detail struck from the updated permit: noise tests.

At the planning and zoning meeting earlier this month, commission members were split between having the Board of Education pay to conduct five noise tests to address neighborhood complaints or leaving the responsibility to residents. 

After two weeks of discussion, the majority voted to leave noise tests out of the permit. 

Member Amy Barsanti, originally in favor of the tests, said including the extra process didn’t make sense if the commission could not act on the results. 

“The fact that we are going to potentially collect information and not have any plan to use it led me to believe that I didn’t think that this was a prudent thing to do,” she said.

She added that a separate section in the permit provided the option for neighbors to voice their concerns about any disturbances.

Secretary George Ball agreed that neighbors should bear some of the responsibility for testing, adding that homeowners should have expected a more noisy environment if they chose to live next to the high school as opposed to a quieter, more distant neighborhood.

“You know that you’re buying a house close to a school like you know that you’re buying a house close to a highway or a firehouse or a church,” he said.

The 45-decibel baseline comparison for noise testing  — based on the state statute for late-night residential noise — was another sticking point as games would be exempt from the low volume restriction. 

Including a report with any sort of limit for the tests for exempted events would give an easy target for resident complaints, member Michael Nedder said.

“I don't know why we would hold the Board of Ed to a higher standard than we'd hold any other homeowner or resident in the town,” he said.

Vice Chairman George Reilly, who first suggested the sound tests, was the sole voice of dissent when it came time to vote.

“I think there ought to be a way to determine by how much we are exceeding the actual limitations that are in the statute,” Reilly said. “The reason I would oppose the entire resolution is that after all this talk about noise, we will be doing nothing about noise.”