A new era of night baseball was ushered into Mount Airy this week as town officials flipped the switch on a set of controversial light towers that have divided some residents and local ball players.
"The field itself was very nice," said Councilman David Pyatt, describing the test lighting of the Twin Ridge baseball field Monday night.
"I walked across the street to the sidewalk, and I personally didn't think there was any interference to the neighborhood. I was pleased that it came out as well as it did."
Residents were not quite as happy that the six 70-foot towers they are fighting to dismantle will be brightening the nighttime sky this summer.
"It was so completely lit up that you could read a newspaper on the driveway," said Beth Ann Bruner, who lives about 50 yards from the field. "We turned off all the lights in the house, and the spare bedroom and the dining room were completely lit up."
Ms. Bruner and 15 of her neighbors filed a civil suit against Mount Airy in October, claiming that town officials did not inform them of the lights before they built $204,000 to $276,000 homes in the Twin Ridge subdivision.
Most residents have said they learned of the lighted field when the Mount Airy Town Council awarded an $84,000 contract to 44TC Virginia company to install the lights in June. The lights were installed in November.
"They should have told us [in advance] so we could have made an educated decision" about buying homes in the neighborhood, Ms. Bruner said.
She said Grayson Homes would not release her and her husband from their building contract after they learned about the lights. The couple moved into their $250,000 home in October, she said.
Homeowners also have claimed that the lights and night baseball games to be played under them will destroy their quality of life, bringing noise, trash, parking problems and unruly athletes to the quiet subdivision.
"They keep saying [the field] is for the children," Ms. Bruner said. "Well, these children are driving trucks and parking their cars all over our street.
"They block our mailboxes so that we can't just drive up and get our mail, but have to get out and walk around their cars to get it."
Grayson Homes, the builder, and E. Brooke Lee III, president of L.D.G. Inc., which developed Twin Ridge, were not named in the lawsuit because they said they didn't know about the lights before beginning to build homes nearby, Ms. Bruner said. The case is to be heard in Frederick County Circuit Court in March.
"We had enough money that we could have bought anywhere we wanted," Ms. Bruner said. "It wasn't like we had to live here."
The Town Council approved plans for the improved ball field and the light towers in October 1992. Mount Airy officials argued at the time that the lights were necessary to increase playing time on the Twin Ridge field.
A month later, Frederick County residents attended a council meeting to complain about the renovation of the fields, which they felt would primarily benefit boys' sports teams.
Ball fields have been a scarce commodity in town as the community and its youth athletic programs have grown rapidly over the past few years. About 100 baseball teams from four organizations are scheduled to play on the Twin Ridge field this season, said Councilman Pyatt.
"When I came on the council in 1988, the Carroll County Planning Department did a survey and said we needed 22 more ball fields for the community," said Mr. Pyatt, the council's liaison with area recreational programs.
In addition to the Twin Ridge site, there are three ball fields within Mount Airy and five more just outside the town limits, he said.
"We're still way under what a desirable situation would be," Mr. Pyatt said. "I get calls from church groups that would like to have a league and there's not a field to be found. The pickup teams have no place to play."
Such conflicts between a lack of ball fields and rights of nearby residents are not unique to Mount Airy.
Similar concerns were raised by residents of the Whispering Meadows development in Westminster when the city installed light towers at Jaycee Park in the summer of 1993. Westminster officials and the residents reached a compromise last year when the city agreed to put shields on the lights and planted trees between the homes and fields. The shields, which cost Westminster $3,000, were expected to reduce glare from the lights by 30 percent to 40 percent.
A similar solution in Mount Airy, however, seems not to have appeased nearby residents. Town officials paid more than $10,000 to install shields on the field's six towers before they were tested Monday night.
"It's far from the brightness of a full moon," said Ms. Bruner, referring to a comparison made by town officials. "They [the shields] don't do anything. It's just absurd."