Courtroom battle begins over ball field lights Twin Ridge residents testify glare, trash, noise are disruptive

March 21, 1996|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Old and new Mount Airy clashed in a courtroom yesterday as homeowners in the Twin Ridge development told a Frederick County circuit judge how a lighted ball field disrupted their lives while town officials repeatedly ignored their complaints.

In the first day of testimony in their civil suit against the town of Mount Airy, Twin Ridge residents said that the presence of six, 70-foot stadium lights surrounding a baseball field and ball games have brought unwanted glare, trash, noise and traffic to their neighborhood of $200,000 homes.

The 16 homeowners, who filed the lawsuit in October 1994, are asking Frederick Circuit Judge John H. Tisdale to order Mount Airy to dismantle the lights at the Twin Ridge Elementary School ball field. They argue that town planning documents never indicated that their community would have a lighted ball field. The ball field dispute has divided Mount Airy, a town of 5,000 that has experienced rapid growth in the past 10 years, as subdivisions have sprouted up around the region.

In his opening statement, William Fallon, attorney for the Twin Ridge residents, said that the town is in violation of its ordinance addressing light glare. He said he intends to call lighting experts who will testify that the playing field lights were improperly placed.

"We think the town has created a nuisance of such gravity that they [the lights] should be shut off and taken out," Mr. Fallon said.

Mount Airy officials maintain that construction of a lighted ball field at Twin Ridge Elementary had been discussed since 1988, and was the subject of many Town Council meetings and newspaper articles.

They say the town doesn't have enough fields to accommodate the 800 children who play baseball in two recreation leagues.

Town attorney Richard Murray said that Twin Ridge residents had been misled by home sales agents who told prospective buyers that the Twin Ridge field would only be used by schoolchildren.

"This is a case of failed expectations," Mr. Murray said. "I suspect in large part due to the Realtor who handled the sales."

In testimony yesterday, Twin Ridge homeowners said they would never have moved to the neighborhood if they had known that their homes would be across the street from a lighted playing field rimmed by 48 1,500-watt lights.

"We were first-time homebuyers and were very picky about where we were going to live," said Twin Ridge homeowner Kimberly Ann Fultz, who testified that the house she owns with her fiance sits in the path of the lights at home plate and third base.

Residents said that the glare of the lights is so intense that closing drapes or blinds doesn't shut it out.

They testified that the lights disturb their sleep, prevent them from sitting outside on their decks and interfere with their sex lives.

In addition to the glare of the lights, residents testified they are disturbed by the loud cheering and yelling during games and fearful of strangers who come to their neighborhood to watch youth baseball.

"I'm concerned for my safety when I'm there by myself with strangers in the neighborhood," said Ms. Fultz, who installed a security system in her home.

Since the Twin Ridge homeowners filed the lawsuit, resident Beth Ann Bruner said that she has been called offensive names by people who attend baseball games and has had to stop jogging in the neighborhood because of a threatening atmosphere.

"The town has made it a point to turn people against us," she said. "I won't be able to live here if we lost the lawsuit. It will be way too stressful."

The trial is expected to conclude early next week.

Pub Date: 3/21/96

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