WESTPORT, Conn. – (UPDATE) After more than three decades of failed attempts, Westport will finally install permanent lights on the Staples High School field. On Thursday night, the Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously approved a site plan and special permit for the lights, filed by the Board of Education.
“We’ve come to a moment here that is at least 30 years in the making — an opportunity to enhance the existing Westport outdoor recreation and athletic facilities for use by the entire community by providing limited evening lighting for the Staples High School football field,” Board of Education Vice Chairman Jim Marpe told the commission.
The special permit and site plan came four months after Westport approved a legal agreement between the town and Staples' neighbors. The agreement, called a stipulation of judgment, put to rest a lawsuit that prevented the town from installing permanent lights.
In 2009, the commission approved a text amendment that allowed permanent lighting on the field. However, the decision was quickly appealed to the Representative Town Meeting, the town's legislative body, by a group of neighbors. After the RTM upheld the decision, it was appealed to state Superior Court.
That lawsuit was just one of many hurdles the town faced since 1978, when the first attempt to install field lights was made, said Andy Moss, chairman of the Parks and Recreation Commission.
Not only is the installation of field lighting long overdue, Moss said it’s also something the students and community deserve.
“People can accuse Westporters of a lot of things, but the one thing no one can say is we don’t support our kids playing sports,” Moss said. “But one thing we’ve not done is enable our kids to enjoy what student athletes across the country already enjoy — the excitement of a home night game.”
Under the agreement with neighbors, the Board of Education requested the installation of four field lights: two on 80-foot poles, to be placed nearest to the school, and two on 70-foot poles, to be placed on the opposite side of the field.
The lights will be used from September through December until 8 p.m. for weekday games and practices, and until 10 p.m. for a total of eight “Westport athletic special events,” Town Attorney Ira Bloom said.
Suzie Im, who lives on High Point Road with her father, expressed concerns over the noise night games will generate.
“Whenever there’s a game, it’s so noisy that from inside my living room, it sounds like there’s a huge keg party,” she said. “I understand this could be a really big advantage for Staples to have home games, but I know it’s going to be like 10 times the amount of noise.”
Bloom said a four-member review committee, including two neighbors, will be established and charged with handling any complaints over the lights or noise.
Fundraising for the installation of the lights is under way.
*This story was originally written before the Planning and Zoning Commission took a vote on the proposal. It has been updated from its original version to include the vote.