Will NIMBYs turn lights out on school athletic field? | AspenTimes.com

Will NIMBYs turn lights out on school athletic field?

John Colson

Two neighborhoods in the town that first elevated NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) to an art form have been surprisingly quiet about a proposal to light the local football field.Homeowners in the Five Trees and Meadowood neighborhoods, on the southeastern edge of Aspen, have said little about the Aspen School District’s plans to install lights at the athletic field next to Maroon Creek Road.Meadowood Homeowners Association president Steve Wickes could not be reached for comment.When asked if there is any opposition among Five Trees homeowners, association president Jim Stark replied unhesitatingly, “Yes, there is.”Rather than “totally ‘no way’ responses,” though, Stark said he has gotten lukewarm, if slightly negative, reactions to the idea of nighttime sporting events at the school athletic field.The school district, in partnership with the city of Aspen, earlier this year announced plans to install artificial turf and make other improvements to the athletic field.The city and the district have each pledged $300,000 for the project, which will mean a more durable surface on which students can play, as well as a longer playing season because artificial turf can be cleared of snow earlier in the spring than a natural sod field.In addition, a group of parents and other private donors are working to raise $900,000 to pay for the installation of new bleachers, a press box, restrooms and lights for the field.It is the lights, Superintendent Diana Sirko acknowledged, that might spark opposition from homeowners in the nearby subdivisions.But Sirko has promised to find lights that will not be obtrusive or a source of light pollution.”We’ve done research on the lightssee lights on page A6and we would be using high-tech lights with a minimum amount of splashback,” she said. “We’re trying to minimize the amount of disruption for the surrounding area. We’re trying to be as unobtrusive as possible.” The lights the district has in mind will point downward, rather than the traditional floodlights that have lit up athletic stadiums and other public facilities for decades.Stark has sent out messages to members of the Five Trees Homeowners Association and says some people are worried about not just the lighting, but also the potential use of the field for more than just the football season.If other sports teams, such as soccer, were to end up playing night games on the field, he said, “I suspect … the opposition will rise slightly.”Part of the concern is that the towers that support the lights will have to be fairly tall so the lights can illuminate a large enough area to be effective. Some fear this will make the lights a problem for nearby homes even if they are directed downward.Until he hears from all 70 homeowners, though, Stark said he cannot be sure of the depth and strength of opposition to the district plan.But, he predicted, “This one will be interesting.”He noted that when the subject of lights at the nearby city-owned Moore Playing Fields came up, a number of Meadowood residents went ballistic and the lights were not allowed. And when the Aspen Skiing Co. suggested night skiing, it was the lighting that generated most community outcry.”Night lights just always seem to be a huge issue in the community,” Stark remarked.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com