Oct 29, 2012 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
Close to 100 unhappy residents crowded into the truck bay of the Skaneateles Fire Hall last week for a Zoning Board of Appeals public hearing on a light variance request from Victory Sports Medicine Enterprises for its planned 99-acre sports complex off Route 20.
The variance would allow the complex to have 17 poles with 70-to-90 foot athletic field lights.
The two-and-a-half hour meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 23, included a project overview from VSM officials and an explanation of the proposed lighting by Don Rhuda, of Musco Lighting Company, and then more than an hour of public comments, which were overwhelmingly in opposition to the variance. No action was taken by the board that night.
The planned health, wellness and sports complex has been in the works for four years, and is intended to be an expansion of Victory Sports Medicine and Orthopedics, a local sports injury practice established by Dr. Marc P. Pietropaoli in 1999. The 99.5-acre complex located on land off East Genesee Street, past East Lake Road but before Coach Road, will contain a 171,000 square-foot building, which will house both medical offices and indoor athletic facilities, and 13 outdoor athletic fields made of either artificial turf or natural grass.
The ZBA public hearing was called to discuss the variance request for the 17 poles of 70-to-90 foot field lighting on the outdoor fields. Town zoning laws currently limit such lights to 20 feet. Should the ZBA reject the VSM Enterprises request, the company would have to revise its plans, which would postpone a scheduled Town Planning Board public hearing set for late November.
“The heights are not arbitrary. They’re based on math and aiming angles,” Rhuda, from Musco Lighting, told the board. He said to make the 17 light poles only 20 feet tall would be “unsafe for players, unsafe for neighbors and something that is not usable.”
Rhuda said field lights at 20 feet tall basically spray light forward and outward in order to illuminate the field, which creates light “spillage” in all directions and therefore would be more visible to neighbors. The 70-foot lights, by contrast, are so tall as to aim the lights downward onto the field. They also have hoods on the light bulbs that focus and direct the light downward, minimizing light spillage off the field.
“We’re creating a ring of darkness around a facility,” Rhuda said.
Rhuda used a Powerpoint presentation to show examples of athletic fields with and without the 70-foot lighting, which he used to demonstrate the focused angle of the taller poles and the reduced light spillage they create. From a distance, the lights look like small orbs in the sky rather than a large general glow, the Powerpoint photographs were used to demonstrate.
Rhuda said that regionally there are three athletic fields that have 70-foot lighting and he encouraged concerned and curious residents to go visit them in person and see what they look like: Fenner Field in Cazenovia, and the fields at Auburn and Cortland High schools.
VSM attorney John Langey also made a brief presentation to the board urging approval of the variance. He said there would be “clearly no” impact from the lighting on the complex neighbors, and that the “benefit to the applicant clearly outweighs any detriment to the neighborhood, and in fact there are no detriments to the neighborhood.”
The planned hours of operation for the facility run until 11 p.m., at which time the field lights would be turned off.
In response to questions by ZBA members, Rhuda said the field lights will be controlled by a computer program to shut off at 11 p.m. He said the 17 poles would contain a total of 236 light bulbs, each bulb of 1,500 watts. He said each of the 17 poles also will have LED security lighting at the 20-foot height, which will allow visitors to return safely to their cars after 11 p.m. and for security.
Rhuda also said there would be an as-yet-undetermined number of light poles of not higher than 20 feet throughout the entire complex to light the roads, driveways, walkways and parking lots.
Rhuda said the height of the PA speakers to announce games is “usually” set at 20 feet.
Before opening the hearing to public comments, ZBA Chair David Graham read aloud a letter the ZBA received from the town planning board in which the planning board members stated they were in “full support” of approval for the light variance request.
Graham also said the Onondaga County planning board had sent the ZBA a letter on Sept. 17 recommending modifications to the proposed complex plan, including a complete traffic impact study by the state Department of Transportation, a DOT determination on the storm water drainage plan and a DOT determination on the access road connecting to Route 20 from the complex. The county planning board also encouraged the limitation of “harsh glare” on the neighbors from complex lighting.
Graham then recommended that the ZBA accept the planning board’s Oct. 16 negative declaration for the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR), which stated that the VSM project would have no significant environmental impact to the town. The ZBA unanimously accepted the planning board’s determination.
The hearing was then opened for public comment. Three people spoke in favor of project and the light variance, while more than one dozen spoke out against it, with their comments typically followed by loud applause from the crowd.
Resident Chris Rourke, who lives in an adjoining neighborhood to the proposed complex, said that when VSM held a lighting demonstration on the property on Sept. 11 with two 70-foot light poles, he saw no glare from his house or as he walked around his neighborhood. He said there was more glare from the Skaneateles High School lights two miles away.
Resident Joe Brasso said he was in favor of the project as a whole, but hoped VSM would consider shutting the lights off at 9 p.m. rather than 11 p.m.
Resident Matthew Weaver, who said he was not a neighbor of the complex, was in favor of the lighting, saying his son plays football and “the kids should be able to see what they’re playing.”
On the opposition side, there were numerous comments and concerns about the lighting specifically but also about the project as a whole. Since the hearing was solely on the subject of the light variance and not on the merits of the entire project — the latter of which falls under the purview of the planning board — Graham continually had to interrupt speakers and remind them to limit their comments to the lighting variance. Some attendees criticized Graham for “censoring” public comments.
Resident Jim Moore, of East Lake Road, told the board that the Sept. 9 neighborhood meeting and the Sept. 11 lighting demonstration, both held by VSM, were by invitation only and practically no neighbors were actually invited and therefore have little information on the subject. He said that the planning board meeting minutes, which declare that the neighborhood meeting alleviated neighbors’ concerns about the impact of the lighting, therefore is not accurate and “certainly not fair.”
Resident Susan Taylor, who said she represented a group of concerned citizens, also criticized the invitation-only neighborhood meeting and chastised VSM for ignoring the feelings of the public. She said she opposed the variance for the field lighting because “light brings noise,” and the volume of sound pollution of athletic events occurring on 13 different fields would be destructive to the neighborhood. She said the board must be reminded that “this is not a benefit to the community, it is a commercially-driven enterprise.”
Coach Road resident Kate Conan said that in addition to the 17 taller light poles, she also was concerned about the 400 parking spaces currently in the site plan and the number of lights it will take to illuminate that. “That’s a pretty big parking lot,” she said. She asked how many lights are planned for the parking lot, to which Graham directed VSM send that information to the ZBA.
After more than an hour of public comments, the ZBA voted unanimously to hold the public hearing open until its next meeting on Nov. 13, in order to receive additional written public comments and include them in the record. The board expects to make a determination at that meeting on whether or not to allow the variance.
If the variance is rejected, then the town planning board public hearing scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 27, will have to be postponed in order for VSM to revise its project plan with 20-foot field lighting.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Skaneateles Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.