Residents of western Howard County met last night to step up their campaign to defend the darkness of their rural landscape from lighted ball fields planned for Western Regional Park.
Neighbors of the Glenwood site hope to persuade the County Council to cut funding for the lights from the county budget, scheduled for a vote May 21. Recently, the group hired lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano to help it increase membership and plan a strategy.
About 70 group members gathered at Circle D Farm in Glenwood to discuss the issue. Dels. Gail H. Bates and Warren E. Miller, both Howard County Republicans, also attended.
Complaints centered on the impact the lighted fields would have on the quiet community, which features two-lane roads and a single traffic signal. Neighbors fear light and noise pollution, and they worry that the site may not be able to handle a waste-disposal system designed for an estimated 200,000 visitors annually.
The county "is forcing something on a community that is just not ready," said Joan Becker, a lawyer who lives on a farm across the street from the park.
Those who attended also said they felt blindsided by the project after discussions several years ago made them believe that lights were off the table. They said they did not know about plans for the lights until they surfaced as part of the county budget process this spring.
The Department of Recreation and Parks requested $2.3 million for lights on five fields, artificial turf on two fields and other construction costs. Five additional fields will not be lighted.
Gary J. Arthur, director of the Department of Recreation and Parks, has said that lights are necessary to maximize use of the fields as popular recreation leagues struggle to find space for youth and adult games. Fees from the additional games would offset the cost of artificial turf, which he said is needed to extend the life of the fields.
If the money is approved, Arthur said, his department is planning to buy fixtures that reduce the amount of light spilling off the fields. They would be ready for use next spring and allow play until 11 p.m.
With the council vote scheduled for next week, "we have a short time frame," Bereano said. A council member would have to propose an amendment by May 19 to cut the lighting funds.
Allan H. Kittleman, a Republican who represents western Howard on the council, said, "I haven't made a decision yet whether I will file an amendment." He said other council members have not shown interest in opposing the expenditure for lights.
When the lights appeared in the budget this spring, hundreds of athletes and parents involved in sports leagues voiced their support, happy to get more space for games. But some western Howard residents said they were concerned that light and noise would carry to nearby homes and that late events would bring traffic, crowds and possibly crime.
The park site is adjacent to the Glenwood library and near two shopping centers. One neighborhood bordering the park dates back hundreds of years, and a few family farms remain. But most neighboring homes are part of developments that were built on former farmland over the past decade.
"We're not an industrial or a highly residential area," said Tim Dowd, owner of Circle D Farm. "We are out here in the middle of nowhere."
"Well," he said, "it used to be the middle of nowhere."
David Skeberdis moved into a house on Millers Mill Road five years ago. The proposed light poles would be used at ball fields that would come within 50 yards of his back porch.
Skeberdis, a senior systems engineer at Lockheed Martin, said the fields under construction look more like stadiums than simple ball fields. "Why can't we keep western Howard rural?" he said.