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Public Seeks Balance with Worcester ‘Lighting Ordinance’

Over 100 people attended the first public hearing of Worcester Township’s proposed ordinance that would allow field lighting at Methacton High School.

The Worcester Township Board of Supervisors held a public hearing over the township’s proposed “Lighting Ordinance,” at the Jan. 16 business meeting. The ordinance, which the supervisors voted to publically advertise at its , proposes to allow field lights for nighttime use of two of Methacton High School’s athletic fields.

Just as the Dec. 19 meeting was well attended, the Jan. 16 public hearing left standing room only. Many of those in attendance, who advocate for the lights installation, represented various organized bodies of the Methacton School District community, including school board members and members of sports organizations from both Lower Providence and Worcester townships.

“As you can see, it’s not just football, but also lacrosse, field hockey and band,” Tom Leahan, a Worcester resident and president of the Methacton Warriors Pop-Warner football organization, said prior to the meeting.

Prior to the public hearing, lights advocates organized an online petition, and submitted 785 signatures to the board of supervisors – in all, nearly 1,000 signatures had been collected at time of this article’s publication.

“I am impressed by the numbers that think it is important to get lights for the students even in this time of economic difficulties,” Art Bustard, chairman of the board of supervisors, said at the hearing.

Bustard also recognized the Worcester residents, particularly those living closest to the high school, who were present at the hearing, ready to voice concerns about potential light spillage and noise from nighttime use.

Bustard said that the board of supervisors is committed to moving the lights issue forward, as evidence by the ordinance proposal itslef, however, he said the ordinance should reflect a balance between needs of all concerned.

“It is the role of the supervisors to protect the rights of the minority, while advancing the consensus of the majority,” Bustard said.

While the hearing lasted nearly two hours, the board did not proceed to a vote on the ordinance afterward. According to Bustard, he did not call for the vote in light of the absence of supervisor Stephen Quigley. A vote on the ordinance may be called for at the next business meeting.

 

A Light Balance

Jim Garrity, the township’s solicitor, and author of the ordinance, facilitated the public hearing. He provided a general outline of what the ordinance will try to accomplish, explaining that the goal is to create a law that would allow lights only at certain athletic fields at the high school that would allow for safe nighttime use, but at the same time, not disturb nearby residents.

“The Township has tried very hard to be as balanced as possible with this ordinance,” Garrity said. “Trying to write a reasonable but balanced ordinance isn’t easy with strong opinions on both sides.”

For the public hearing, Garrity first called upon the attorney representing the Methacton School District, Eric Fry. He was followed by Marc Jonas, the attorney representing the neighbors of the high school property, as led by John Harris, a former Worcester Township supervisor.

During public comments, it was pointed out that Jonas, as the current chair for the Montgomery County Planning Commission, which reviewed the ordinance along with the township’s own planning commission prior to recommending it to the supervisors for a vote, may have a conflict of interest in representing the neighbors, however, Garrity said that he could see none.

Both attorneys said that their clients would like to see the field light installments, but disagreed on certain points in the ordinance that would govern exactly how the lights should be built.

“We want to contain the effects of the lighting before we move forward,” Jonas told the board.

One such issue is the intensity of illumination, where Fry, referring to a school district lighting expert, questioned the ordinance section (See section B.4 in media gallery above) that limits the measured illumination onto residential property lines, saying it is impossible to adhere to such limitations.

Fry added that it is the district’s hope to have the ordinance approved and appear before the supervisors at a conditional-use hearing by early summer.

Jonas had brought in a lighting expert for the hearing, who later refuted the district's lighting expert on the intensity of illumnaiton limits. The expert also used several different terms to describe the results of inefficient usage or ineffectual lighting designs: “sky glow,” “glare,” “nuisance lighting,” and “lighting trespass.”

Other points the attorneys questioned in the ordinance dealt with maximum height of the light installations and the glare control around lighting fixtures.

 

Public Comments

There were no comments that outright opposed the installation of the lights, however, many of the neighboring Worcester residents expressed their concerns.

One resident, Bob Cannon, said that he took issues with the ordinance not being restrictive enough on the frequency of nighttime use (available until certain times Monday through Saturday), and on who may use the fields. He, and other residents, also expressed concerns over seeing the lights at night, and wanted any and all engineers involved with the construction to take ensure minimal disturbance.

“I am for the lights, for the balance and for taking our time to make sure we get this perfect from the get go,” Cannon said. “All we’re working on now are the engineering issues, and that’s something we have to get perfect.”

Another Worcester resident said that while the students may use the fields for a time, they ultimately graduate and move one, whereas the residents around the field must live there for years to come, which should be further consideration on keeping or adding to the restrictions outlined in the ordinance.

Other audience members spoke against the frequency and time restraints, as the ordinance does not take into account for delays, such as weather or injuries.

In addition to light, some audience members spoke against the restrictions on music.

While Methacton and visiting school bands may perform, the use of the PA system is limited. According to Lois Byrne, who authored the previously noted petition, this section of the ordinance[B.11(a)] would restrict the cheerleaders and dance team.

One of the last comments of the evening was made by longtime Worcester resident Ron Evans, who said he helped start the campaign to get lights at Methacton High School two decades ago.

While living just over 3,000 feet from the school, Evans said that he wants the Methacton students to have Friday-night games, as such games have become a beloved American tradition at many high schools. And, as a longtime advocate, he made a request to the board for whenever the lights are installed at the high school.

“I would like to be the one to pull the first switch with John Harris by my side,” Evans said.

According to Garrity, the hearing will continue at the next supervisors’ business meeting on Feb. 20. He added that the board may take a vote on the ordinance as it is currently written, or may amend it to reflect the concerns raised during the Jan. 16 public hearing, from which another notice of advertisement and subsequent public hearing would be scheduled.  

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For more on the story:

  • Methacton High School Lights Supporters Rally Online
  • The Process for Field Lights at Methacton High School Begins
  • Methacton School Community Asked to Show Support for Field Lights
  • Methacton School Board Discusses MHS Field Improvements Update

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