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Proposal to Install Lights at Butler Field Referred to Village Planning Board

JointMeetingA joint meeting of the Scarsdale School Board and Village Board of Trustees was held at Scarsdale Congregational Church on June 19 to discuss the installation of lights at Butler Field.After months of meetings, community input, and the drafting of new policies and regulations, the proposal to install LED lights on Butler Field was reviewed before a joint meeting of the Scarsdale Board of Education and the Scarsdale Village Board of Trustees on Wednesday night June 19. Though many assume the field is owned by the school district, it is actually Village owned property that is leased to the school. Donated to the Village by Emily O. Butler in 1920, it has been leased to the school district ever since.

Many thought this final meeting would be a mere formality – and the Village Board would consent to the school district’s plans. However, in an unexpected turn of events, after the proposal was reviewed and the public was given time to speak, Mayor Marc Samwick made a surprising announcement. The Village Board will refer the proposal to the Scarsdale Village Planning Board for a recommendation – a move that could alter the plans and stall the project for several months.

The meeting opened with a description of the proposal and a review of the process. Athletic Director Ray Pappalardi, who has spearheaded the district’s efforts, explained that the district held a series of meetings to explore the feasibility of installing the lights. They developed preliminary designs, drafted a memorandum of understanding with Maroon and White who plans to raise $800,000, approved a formal donor recognition plan, came up with a field use policy and filed for a SEQRA review.

He said, “We have addressed concerns about lights, noise, trash and parking and have added more stipulations to regulate these.”

He explained that the state of the art LED lights would be mounted on four 80-foot poles and the light will have no spillover to the tracks. Ancillary lights will be needed to light the track. To address complaints about amplified sound, the district is proposing to use a targeted speaker system that will keep the sound inside the stadium.

Pappalardi explained that the district has “created rules as to when sound can be used” and is “currently working with the police on an event management plan.”

To address calls for an enforcement policy, Pappalardi added that a dedicated phone number would be installed for residents to make reports about field usage and noise and an email address would also be offered solely for complaints. In terms of usage, Pappalardi said that a total of 29 evening events under the lights would be permitted, with light usage to 10 pm. Asked where they could see similar lighting systems, Pappalardi said that Edgemont High School and Horace Greeley have similar lights.

About the sound system, Pappalardi said, “Its supposed to be a six speaker system with a range of 150 feet each – highly directional – the sound goes where the speaker is aimed -- toward the center of the field.” He added, “We will also need sound in the bleachers so that the spectators can hear.”

Trustee Lena Crandall expressed concern about the noise – including the whistles and the cheering. She said, “We want to be good neighbors.” She asked, “Have you investigated physical blocking or screening for the sound? Pappalardi responded, saying, “We discussed trees and natural screening to block the light and the sound. There are open gaps where trees fell down.”

Brice Kirkendall Rodriguez, President of the Old Scarsdale Neighborhood Association said some residents in his neighborhood association live in close proximity to the field. He explained, “There is not opposition to the lights but there is concern about use and over use.” He continued, “Previously residents were not expressing concern about noise because there was sun down. Once you put in lights that will end.” Referring to the lights he said, “80 foot lights are tall. That’s one of the tallest structures in Scarsdale and it will be visible.”

He continued, “I see two drivers for the lights: The scarcity of fields during rainy weeks is that’s both a village and school issue. One way to mitigate this is to allow more field access. The other issue is public events. We don’t want to burden these residents with night after night of events because there are no other fields.”

Janet Korins thanked both the boards and school administration saying, “A lot of work has gone into this process.” She continued, “Any solution has to be permanent and in writing. Old timers said they were promised that there would never be lights on Butler Field. The Board can change – and residents can change – so we need something in writing. The agreement must be permanent and enforceable.”

Charles Hellman of Wayside Lane said, “I have attended the meetings of the BOE and met with Ray to discuss the impact of the lights on the community. Noise has been an ongoing problem for years – but it happened during the day. But now the potential installation of these lights and use into the nights threatens to have a dramatic impact on the neighbors. The field has been there for 100 years, but it has not been used at night. The installation of 80-foot stadium towers in a residential neighborhood is a real concern. Once they are there, there is not a lot we will be able to do. What is the Village’s role in the decision-making? Can we find that out?”

A representative from the Scarsdale Youth Soccer Club said, “Our position is that we are very much in favor of these lights. There are 500 children in the SYSC program. We would be willing to sign a policy agreement limiting our usage.

Matt Conlan of Madison Road, an advocate for the lights defended the proposal. He said, “Look at how frequently the fields are wet. We can’t solve all of our problems with one lit field. We all agree that we are looking out for the best interest of the kids. Everyone agrees that the sound system we have now does not work. The new sound system will be beneficial to the students and the neighbors. I disagree that there was a promise that there would be no lights.”

Conlan continued, “Lights on field is the expectation of the homebuyer. They want lights on the fields along with wifi. 80-foot poles do sound high – but it’s the cleanest solution… This doesn’t exclude putting in more turf fields in Scarsdale.”

Susan Kohn Carstensan Road said, “I appreciate the opportunity to address the Village Board. Many of us who live near the fields have kids in the sports programs. Despite the widespread support there are concerns that have not yet been addressed. We are being asked to take a leap of faith on the noise, the lights and scope abuse. I am asking for an assurance that the sound system will work as planned; the lights will be as promised –- nightly practices – noise every night during the school year? As a parent – I see the stress the kids deal with. Noise night after night is not fair. As much as I support lights, studies come first. It’s easy for 8:15 to become 8:30. The noise travels. You hear the cars coming and going…. Provide some objective means that the sound system will work as expected and a real enforcement method. I am asking for the Village to provide the enforcement.”

Bob Harrison said “It seems like we need more turf fields ... I would like us to do Dean Field and a field at Crossway. I am a strong believer in protecting homeowners’ property rights. Homes in Scarsdale cannot be higher than 35 feet – so 80 feet is substantially higher. I look at this as an 80 foot high bowl of light. It’s got to be light pollution. Is there some kind of compromise? My 10 year-old grandson has 3-4 practices a week – are there any limits on this? Maybe we need more controls – or a strong educational commitment? Maybe we should look at some alternatives – battery powered lights – 20 -25 feet tall? And making an investment in more turf fields. We need a solution that takes into consideration our home values and the neighbors.”

Bob Berg said, “I support this project as a community building project but I am sensitive to the concerns of the neighboring residents. I think you are missing an opportunity to calm their fears. You should get an expert to do sound testing in other neighborhoods and find out the impact on the neighbors. Let’s go out and get the facts in advance. I don’t think the impact is going to be that great. Go out and get the information needed to satisfy everyone.”

Kate Conlan a Co-President of Maroon and White said, “I want to address some of the concerns and applaud the district for the work that you have done. The administration has spent a lot of time with concerned neighbors, ISO’s, the PRC – I urge everyone to put their faith in Thomas and the policy that has been well thought out. There have been 9 or 10 opportunities for public comment. The lights will be off for six months of the year. They are on in March and April, during the rainy season and in late October and into November. They are off in December – mid-March. I think the administration has done a great job and I urge you to listen to the BOE and administration’s policy. Our schools should be vibrant. It turns out there is noise all day long. The amplified noise is the issue and they are putting in $50,000 to improve that issue. … The high school is supposed to be noisy and vibrant and it is within the law.”

Julie Zhu of 11 Harcourt Road said, “About vibrancy – night time and weekends – we’re all for lively schools. We purchased property around the school. This is after sundown and after 8 pm. Faith and trust. I am a big believer in faith and trust. There was a promise that there would never be lights at Butler Field.”

At the conclusion of the public comment period Mayor Marc Samwick thanked everyone for their engagement and made it clear that the Village Board had come to a decision on next steps prior to the meeting.

Samwick announced that the matter would be referred to the Planning Board for review. He also invited the public to a meeting with the Board of Trustees and the Advisory Council on Parks and Recreation on Tuesday June 25 at 6:30 pm.

Here are Samwick’s closing remarks:

First, thank you to the School Board for providing the Village Board and the community with another thorough description of this project and all of the work that has gone into bringing the project so far along. Second, thank you to all of those who attended and shared their views with us this evening. Community engagement is a hallmark of Scarsdale and it is heartening to see a thoughtful and respectful discussion take place around this proposed project.

The Village Board had a preliminary discussion about the Butler Field light project on Monday evening and agreed to, as we have done on occasion in the past, refer this project to the Planning Board for its advisement as part of the Village Board’s review of this project. This is a similar approach to the one that was taken in 2013 when we enlarged and upgraded the Bus Depot at 110 Secor Road, another facility that the School District leases from the Village. We expect this process will be additive, as it was when the School Board brought the Bus Depot project to the Planning Board in 2013.

Once the Village Board receives the Planning Board recommendations, it will continue to work together with the School Board to determine the terms of the Village’s agreement under the Lease.

The Village Board will have a meeting with the Advisory Council on Parks and Recreation on Tuesday evening at 6:30pm in the 3rd Floor Conference Room at Village Hall. The community is welcome and encouraged to attend this meeting. We would like to continue to hear from you as we review this project.

Again, we thank everyone for attending this evening and for your engagement on this project.

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