Westminster officials, park neighbors reach agreement on lights


Neighbors of Westminster Municipal Jaycee Park who have complained since May about athletic field lights now say they are satisfied with a solution proposed by city leaders.

The City Council agreed last week to spend up to $3,000, which will buy about 15 metal shields that direct light down onto the field.

City officials also agreed to plant trees between the park and nearby houses and to work with athletic leagues to specify an hour when lights will be turned off, regardless of the activity.

"I'm pleased that finally our concerns are being recognized, but I'm sorry we had to go through all we had to go through to get to this point," said Cathy Markey of Buck Cash Drive. She is one of the Whispering Meadows residents who took a 50-signature petition to the City Council in July.

Some neighbors said the lights are so bright they don't have to turn on lights in their houses.

Several parents of children in the Westminster Optimist football program said in interviews last week that they didn't understand the reasons for the protests.

One pointed out that neighborhood children play in the park while the lights are on; others said they didn't see a problem if the lights go off at a reasonable hour.

The football league for 7- to 9-year-old boys uses the field on autumn Tuesday and Thursday nights from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Girls of similar ages practice cheerleading in the park at the same time.

Westminster Jaycees girls softball leagues use the field in the summer, when city rules allow lights to remain on until 10 p.m.

Optimist football president John B. Meyer said practices usually end between 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. and lights are out before 9 p.m. He tells of an incident to illustrate why he occasionally burns the lights later.

Mr. Meyer turned the field lights off at 8:45 one night, and heard a scream. A girl in the cheerleading program had been waiting for her mother at the bottom of a rise, outside Mr. Meyer's range of vision.

When he turned the lights off, the child got frightened and cried out. He turned the field lights back on until the girl's parents arrived.

Mr. Meyer said he keeps the lights on until all children have been picked up.

"When you buy a house, it's not a secret the lights are there," said John Zook of Westminster, whose son is in the football program.

Mrs. Markey said the park was open without lights when she and her husband bought their house and they did not know lights were planned. She said she supports youth sports, "but this is smack in the middle of a residential neighborhood."

Uniontown Road resident Jim Catel said he also did not know athletic field lights were planned when he and his wife bought their house about two years ago.

Mr. Catel said he is happy with the solution. "They listened to everyone and came up with a common sense approach to solve it," he said.

Thomas B. Beyard, Westminster public works director, said the light shields will probably give neighbors a 30 percent to 40 percent reduction in glare and "spillover" light from the park.

So far, the city has installed three shields on lights at the park.

Mr. Beyard said city officials solicited public comment before installing the lights in 1993.

The council delayed installation for one year to sound out public opinion and to meet with the Greens' Homeowners Association, which supported lighting the field for youth league use.

Mr. Beyard said the lights are lower candlepower than those used at the county sports complex on John Owings Road.

The city parks board is to meet with league representatives to see if they can agree on a consistent "lights out" time.

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