To the Editor:

Anyone who lives near a town property should watch carefully as our Planning & Zoning Commission considers (probably in December) how it will protect the residential character of the neighborhood around Darien High School when lights go up. With little fanfare and only a few dozen witnesses, potentially significant changes occurred recently that should get the attention of everyone living near a park or school.

P&Z was presented with an incredibly broad zoning amendment that would potentially permit 80-foot lights on any town or school property. This slipped in without notice to property owners (other than DHS neighbors) or any press coverage. The theoretical protection for property owners is that 80-foot lights would require a special permit from P&Z, and that is why neighbors of town and school properties should watch carefully how P&Z protects DHS neighbors.

Special permit requirements are intended to protect residential neighborhoods, but they are only as good as the mindset of the body enforcing them. Our P&Z (as it did under prior leadership) can properly view itself as an impartial, quasi-judicial guardian and view the requirements as protecting important rights of each residential owner (whether or not people object), or improperly see itself as an elected body facilitating “community” agendas and see the requirements as merely guardrails or obstacles to “progress” that must be acknowledged (particularly if people might sue).

Thanks to the efforts of Superintendent Dan Brenner (with support of the Board of Education) and Selectman Rob Richards, no DHS neighbors opposed lights because DHS lights should have the benefit of guidelines worked out with a group of neighbors and included in the P&Z application (additional important protections were requested at the meeting).

The BoE also agreed in its DHS lights application not to light any other DHS field or any other school property for five years. Our Board of Selectman has made no such commitment for town fields, and our new town plan makes it even easier to justify lighting parks than lighting school fields.

Neighbors of McGuane, Cherry Lawn, Baker, Holahan—watch carefully.

Paul Michalski