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Westport Green Lights Temporary Field Lights

WESTPORT, Conn. – The safety of children in Westport Police Athletic League sports shouldn't only be a top priority for the league, but for the town as well. That was the message Westport resident Chris Dwyer had for the Planning and Zoning Commission on Thursday night.

Dwyer, a volunteer coach with Westport PAL, spoke in favor of a proposed zoning change that will allow temporary lights to be installed on town-owned school properties for practices until 8 p.m. from Sept. 1 through Nov. 30. The commission unanimously approved the proposal at the end of the meeting.

"We're not looking to get an unfair advantage over neighboring towns by practicing more or staying any later," Dwyer said. "What we're asking is that you continue the mission statement of Westport youth sports to keep our kids safe by providing the correct environment. Do the right thing."

In 2009, the Parks and Recreation Department sought to have permanent lights installed at the Staples High football field and temporary lights installed at the PJ Romano and Doubleday fields behind Saugatuck Elementary. In the end, the Planning and Zoning Commission approved an amendment that only allowed for permanent lights. Residents living near those fields later appealed that decision to the state Superior Court.

As a result, the athletic fields have remained without lights. And as the days become shorter, PAL football teams have less and less time to practice with sufficient natural light, creating safety concerns.

This concern over player safety prompted Parks and Recreation officials to put forth the proposed zoning change. Hoping the amendment would gain approval, the department also filed a site plan application for the installation of six generator-powered temporary lights on the PJ Romano and Doubleday fields — where PAL football teams practice. Janis Collins, chairwoman of the Parks and Recreation Commission, said she hopes the lights can be installed this fall.

“We don’t want go another season without these lights,” she said.

Resident Lawrence Tirreno, who lives on Riverside Avenue near Saugatuck Elementary and is a plaintiff in the case against the regulation passed in 2009, said he prefers temporary lights to permanent lights.

"I was probably the most involved in organizing the opposition to permanent lights," Tirreno told the Planning and Zoning Commission. "Both myself and the people I represent would rather see temporary lights installed. Permanent lights will make the area look like an airport."

The commission will continue its discussion of the proposed site plan for PJ Romano and Doubleday fields Oct. 6.

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