Expecting overflow crowds at tonight’s Planning & Zoning Commission meeting, where the issue of a proposed turf field at Middlebrook School will be discussed, the town has moved the meeting to Cider Mill School‘s cafeteria. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 7:15 p.m.

The proposed field has both vocal supporters and opponents, and has been the subject of several debates at town meetings, not only during past P&Z hearings but also at a recent Inland Wetlands Commission meeting last Thursday, Oct. 24, as well as at the Board of Selectmen meeting on Sept. 4. There are emails flying between residents, for and against the proposed field; Facebook group pages inspiring name-calling posts; postcard mailings; letters-to-the-editor alleging ‘misrepresentation by the other side,’ and friendships potentially being tested over the issue.

Tonight what will be discussed in front of the P&Z commission is the application to amend current town regulations regarding lighting at athletic fields. The current applicant, Eric Dean, is the president of Wilton Youth Football, which–together with Wilton Youth Lacrosse and Wilton Youth Field Hockey–has proposed to raise private funds to build a turf field at Middlebrook to replace the battered grass field currently used for practice by Youth Football. The application, written on behalf of Dean and the athletic associations by the Gregory & Adams law firm, asks the town to change the regulations according to carefully-worded language:

Lighting for outdoor athletic fields shall be permitted in all residential districts on Town-owned public school properties subject to Special Permit and Site Plan approvals in accordance with 29-10 and 29-11…

It outlines specific requirements and technical conditions:

  • selection and installation of light to protect surrounding areas from glare and spill
  • minimizing light intensity
  • allowing lights as tall as 80 ft.
  • setback amounts from adjoining properties
  • potential establishment of curfew time after which the lights would be shut off by automatic timer.

Proponents argue that with the proliferation of many sports teams and athletic leagues there is competition for access to fields for practice and play–and not enough fields to satisfy the demand; they say a new turf field would alleviate that competition and also allow for more productive use of the space as well as usage of the field year-round (Parks & Recreation prohibits use of the field during the spring so that the grass field may recuperate from the punishment it takes during football season). They also say that the field, turfed and lined for multiple sports, would increase playing time for young athletes, reduce weather-related cancellations, allow for more home games and reduce the amount currently spent on mowing and maintenance. In addition, the field would be used by Middlebrook students during P.E. classes. The youth athletic leagues have currently raised more than $271,000 toward their goal of funding the project completely at a projected $800,000 cost.

Those opposed to the field argue that the lights will negatively impact Wilton’s ‘character.’ They say that raising the lights “will ensure most of central Wilton has a glaring view of the field lighting, and that the proposal “clearly conflicts with the 2010 Plan of Conservation and Development for Wilton. A state goal of the Plan is to: Minimize Light and Noise Pollution.” They call the lights a “blight on the night sky” that will hurt the neighborhood and property values. They have also raised potential environmental concerns due to water runoff, including:  causing erosion and changing stream morphology and water flow; an increase in pollutants associated with turf fields into the watercourses, water table and wetlands; and an adverse impact from thermal effects on wildlife. They have suggested that other suitable locations exist within Wilton that have not been pursued.