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You are here: Home The Goods Village Planning Board Weighs in on Butler Field Lights
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Village Planning Board Weighs in on Butler Field Lights

athleticlightsThe Scarsdale Planning Board weighed in on the Butler Field light project during a public hearing held last night. In short, after listening to Ray Pappalardi, Director of Physical Education/Athletics for the school district, and several members of the community, the board found that the proposal adhered to existing village code and offered benefits for the community at large – with one caveat – it assumed Butler Field activity will remain at current levels, and nighttime use won’t increase.

It’s an important catch. The district’s proposal is based on current levels of use at Butler and doesn’t predict whether the improved lighting and sound system will attract other events at the field. This begs the question – if you build it, will they come? Since the project is a significant investment, wouldn’t the district want to make the most of it and entertain more use? Could the field become a new hub of village activity? Should it?

While these questions were raised at the meeting, ultimately, the planning board was able only to keep to the specific questions posed by the village trustees with regard to village code. In short, the proposal satisfied those questions.

Just the Facts
Specifically, the group ruled that 1) the proposed location for the lights was “valid and appropriate;” 2) the type of lighting recommended was “valid and appropriate” and an improvement over what is currently in use; 3) the direction of the lighting was deemed valid and in compliance with “dark sky” recommendations; 4) the 80-foot elevation of the lights was an aesthetic concern, but a modest one, compared to the benefits of newer LED-lighting that would be better focused on field activity with less spread to surrounding areas; 5) the landscaping facing Wayside Lane could be added to hide a transformer or screen any light that bounces off the field; 6) the potential negative effects for neighboring properties were minimal, provided the same level of use at the field (noting that additional use, which is possible, could present significant negatives); and 7) the anticipated noise of the new system would be an improvement over what’s currently in use. The board also questioned whether specific regulations for use should be established, and agreed that while this was not a planning issue, would ask the trustees to address the matter.

To someone new to the debate, with no skin in the game, the proposal is simple: the district wants to upgrade existing lighting and sound systems. Surely, new technology will offer many benefits. The rub is the field’s proximity to neighboring homes. Butler Field activity has been the same for decades and neighbors have grown to expect noise and traffic during the day, with things settling down at night, save a few events here and there. But, by upgrading the facility, the district expands its options for field use. It hasn’t provided any assurances for limiting the scope of future use, and it‘s this uncertainty that has neighbors rattled.

Proponents of the light project insist that it’s needed to enhance the high school’s sports program as well as the village rec programs. They believe it could build a greater sense of community, as families and friends bond over nighttime games. The district has worked extensively with residents to develop a plan to minimize light and sound pollution to neighboring homes. In our recent poll, 78.5 percent of residents approved of the plan. But we cannot ignore the fact that facility upgrades present new possibilities… and possible hardships for Butler Field’s neighbors.

Speaking Their Minds
After the school district’s presentation and review of specific aspects of the plan, the planning board invited residents to speak.

Charles Hellman (Wayside Lane) stated, “This is a difficult issue; there’s a lot of competing interests… Butler Field sits in the middle of a residential neighborhood that opens up in several different directions… there’s a fair number of houses in the area that are impacted… There aren’t a lot of specifics of noise but, in general, you’re talking about expanding from what has been an understood time of usage to a new area.” He continued, “Then you’ve got concerns about the installation of poles themselves… this would be four 80-foot poles, the largest (structure)… in a residential community in Scarsdale, if not in… all of Scarsdale. And then you’ve got the noise concerns, traffic, trash, etc., and light pollution. We’ve been told that the… light spillage is minimal… but 80-foot lights, you’re going to be seeing them from a distance… There are a lot of different concerns that the neighbors have expressed; and, then there’s the concern of usage ‘creep.’ This really is a situation where, if you build it, they will come…. What can be put into place to ensure (use) isn’t different five years from now? …There is an expectation in this community about how this field has been used over time and what will be consistent with this usage.”

Claudine Gecel (Kent Road) said, “ I live half a mile away from the high school and I have just tolerated the noise... It’s fine, if it’s once in a while… I think this issue brought up a bigger issue… people are enthusiastic about outdoor activities… and there aren’t enough places for kids to have these organized outdoor activities… The golf course said… it doesn’t have enough people… if (the number of) people using the golf course is declining, and people (involved in) kids’ sports is increasing… you might want to think about finding some other properties that aren’t being used… and have a lot more fields.” She went on, “Everyone wouldn’t be focusing on Butler Field so much because there’d be so many other options.”

Dan Ornstein (Carstensen Road) followed, “First of all, I think that Ray’s done an outstanding job of trying to hear the concerns of the community and trying to address them as best he can. But, I think, to be fair, there’s a larger contingent of residents who do not live… anywhere close to the high school… who, frankly, aren’t as concerned with limits and regulations.” He went on, “The very first meeting (about the lights) was solely focused on a few night events… and we were talking about a half a dozen to a couple more games. And… by the next meeting, that turned into ‘if we’re going to spend this much money to build the infrastructure, we should get more use out of it…’ There’s a desire to use the field as much as possible and that is the concern of the local residents. Secondly… the biggest concern is… even if we set rules (for field use)… the problem is that we’ve come up with no real way of enforcing those rules… Thirdly… one of the discussions has been about how bad the lights we have been using are… We’re seeing this as an alternative to that. I don’t believe I’ve heard any discussion about looking into portable LED lights, which are quiet… they certainly would be better from an (aesthetic) perspective… I’m told that six to eight lights wouldn’t be as tall… and could be installed at a fraction of the cost and could be moved. It would be great to have more study done on that… As a neighbor, I wish we could slow down just a bit and… make sure we’re making the right decisions… there shouldn’t be a race to this.“

Mark Michael (Carstensen Road) echoed Ornstein’s comments and added, “This topic was brought up 10-plus years ago. The initial reason was… to provide lights for football games at night. There was no talk about anything else (and) I thought it was a dubious claim then… One other thing that was mentioned at a board of education meeting was (possibly) having concerts there. The scope and use of the field is likely to change over time.” He continued, “I’m extremely concerned that… whatever the maximum number of days we come up with… we’re going to use every single opportunity to use the lighted space… If we’re going to have the lights as originally intended, we have no issue.”

Dan Steinberg, Chair of the Planning Board, then asked Pappalardi whether the district had discussed any uses other than sports. Pappalardi responded, “There’s been no discussion to plan any other type of events on Butler Field. I think, the board… in open, public meetings, looked at some of the other uses – as with Dean Field, where graduation is currently held – and didn’t want to tie their hands with how the lights might be used in the future. There have been no other considerations about this, or plans made or real discussions about it.”

However, Pappalardi later confirmed the district was not committing itself to limit use of Butler to only sports activities. He further explained that any guidelines or regulations would be set by the school district and self-enforced, with no third-party oversight. The district will remain open to community feedback, and residents will be able to report concerns and complaints directly to Pappalardi, or via a general email and phone number.

Kate Conlan (Madison Road), Co-President of Maroon and White, closed out the public comments by expressing support for the project, saying, “Scarsdale prides itself on being cutting-edge… and, of all our peer communities… we are the last community… to have lights… The Board of Education has done a thorough review of this; they have received hundreds of letters in support of permanent LED lights. The BOE unanimously voted to (install) the lights… (and) has worked very hard with the community to look into guidelines… to (address) concerns and considerations regarding trash, regarding noise, regarding light spillage, and regarding the number of sporting events.” She went on, “One of the things that lights can begin to bring to Scarsdale is community spirit… All the students would be able to see other students play their sports... When you walk into one of these games… it is a wonderful community-building experience. It’s fantastic to see. We just want to bring that… a few times a year.” She added, “One neighbor said… the highlight of his son’s youth football career was playing under the lights at White Plains. ‘I don’t want them here, but his highlight was playing under the lights.’ Come on.”

Next Steps
Even though the Butler light proposal passes muster with village code, is it necessary or even possible for the village board of trustees to set guidelines or limitations on future use? The Planning Board was careful to point out that their recommendations are based on what the school district has proposed and the supporting documentation it has provided; there is no independent verification of the material, nor are there any guidelines outlining the scope of future use. So, the matter remains open as the village and school district move forward.

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