Town's field of dispute Squabble: Mount Airy newcomers say floodlights glaring from a baseball field are disruptive, while old-timers tell them to lighten up. Now the community has to settle it in court.

March 19, 1996|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

If there's anything more all-American than Mount Airy, with its Norman Rockwell Main Street that has attracted droves of newcomers in recent years, it's probably baseball.

But it is a baseball field at Twin Ridge Elementary School that has divided this community of 5,000 just as surely as the Carroll-Frederick County line that runs through the heart of town.

On one side are the traditionalists who cling to a deeply held suburban principle the right to play amateur baseball on cool summer nights with bugs bouncing off vapor lights. On the other are the homeowners of Twin Ridge, a new development of $200,000 homes, who say they can't live in the glare of six 70-foot utility poles topped with 1,500-watt floodlights that surround the ball field across the street.

Tomorrow, the squabble makes its way to a Frederick County courtroom, the latest step in a lawsuit filed against the town by 16 Twin Ridge homeowners in October 1994.

Mount Airy isn't accustomed to this sort of ugliness, and frustrated town officials say the matter should never have reached this level of confrontation.

"It's almost petty; it seems like they're trying to stop the all-American sport," said Mount Airy Councilman Norman Hammond. "I am not a baseball fan I've been to one game in my life but this town thinks very big of baseball, and eight families are there trying to destroy it."

It's not baseball they're against, say Twin Ridge residents. They just don't want it in their front yards. And homeowners say it's not only the lights they object to. It's the noise, traffic and general disruption that accompany the youth baseball games.

"We wouldn't be doing this unless we really believed that we were wronged," said Beth Ann Bruner. "We didn't move out here to live across the street from a baseball field."

To some, the controversy over the ball field lights has exacerbated the division between old and new Mount Airy.

Mount Airy is home to many families who have been there for generations, but the town sits at the center of a fast-growing four-county area, an outlying bedroom community in Washington's exurban sprawl.

The attraction for many young families is this combination of small-town charm and access to high-paying professional jobs along the Interstate 270 corridor in Montgomery County.

"The thing I dislike about the whole situation is that people in Mount Airy think everybody in Twin Ridge is a snob because of this," said Deonna Bricker, who moved to the development a year ago and lives directly across the street from the lighted ball field.

Mrs. Bricker and her husband, Tim, are not a party to the lawsuit.

"The way I see it, when my kid is old enough to play ball, I'd rather see him play across the street than have to worry about him somewhere else," she said.

Some of her neighbors feel differently.

In their lawsuit, Twin Ridge homeowners claim the ball field lights have made their community a dangerous, unpleasant place to live. They say the lights and night ballgames disturb their sleep and prevent them from having family dinners on their porches. They're also bothered by the "annoying, deleterious activities that arise from baseball and other sports" played on the field, including enthusiastic spectators who "engage in loud yelling" and "strangers in the neighborhood at night," the lawsuit states.

"People just throw up their lounge chairs and umbrellas and watch the game. It's ridiculous," Ms. Bruner said. "There's crowds, cheering, trash and the lights. This goes on 'til 11 p.m. all summer long."

During baseball games last summer, Twin Ridge residents said that spectators occasionally voiced their opinions about the lawsuit.

"They said, 'You knew the lights were here, you shouldn't have moved here,' " Ms. Bruner said.

Amid accusations and counteraccusations, the dispute has dragged on for a year-and-a-half. Twin Ridge residents claim that town planning documents didn't show a lighted field in their community. Mount Airy officials say the homeowners could have learned about the lights if they had done their homework.

Mount Airy expects to spend at least $20,000 defending the lawsuit against the town, and Twin Ridge homeowners expect their legal fees to exceed $30,000.

"This shouldn't have happened in a small town," Mr. Hammond said.

Mount Airy still is considered a small town, but the four-county area Carroll, Frederick, Howard and Montgomery is home to about 30,000 people. And recreational facilities haven't pace with residential growth.

A 1988 Carroll County planning study, the Mount Airy councilman who oversees recreation and parks.

He said trying to schedule games so that all leagues can participate is a complex process.

"That's why we decided to go with the lighted ball field; you get more field for your dollar," Mr. Pyatt said.

Mount Airy spent $84,000 installing the lights, plus $10,000 to cover them with protective shields to reduce the glare, in response to complaints from Twin Ridge homeowners.

Mr. Pyatt said he attended about 12 games at the field last summer and didn't find the conditions bothersome.

It's unfortunate that some Twin Ridge residents apparently are unable to enjoy their homes, he said.

But living next to a ball field isn't unfamiliar to Mr. Pyatt.

"Back in the '70s, we lived in Loch Raven Village a block away from Calvert Hall [College High School]," he recalled. "They had ballgames with crowds of a couple thousand. It didn't bother me.

"It's what you make of it, I guess."

Pub Date: 3/19/96

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