Some take dim view of lighting

Proposal to illuminate 5 fields at regional park is a matter of dispute

Western Howard

March 19, 2004|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

Along the two-lane roads of western Howard County, lights glimmer from houses sprinkled across former farm fields and the horizon is pink with the glow from nearby cities, but stretches of inky darkness remain.

That soon could change in one rural enclave. The county's Department of Recreation and Parks plans to erect lights on five athletic fields, illuminating part of Western Regional Park in Glenwood.

The change is being encouraged by some residents who are eager to extend the hours they can use the fields for thriving sports leagues. It is being fought by others who believe more light, noise and traffic will ruin the peace of their country setting.

"This thing has just mushroomed," said Clifton Clevenger, whose farm is on Carrs Mill Road, directly across from the Western Regional Park site. "This is not a park, it's a sports complex."

County officials said the lights would offer relief to the many sports teams that compete for playing time on an insufficient number of fields.

"Because of the shortage [of playing fields] we have right now, we try to maximize the amount of time we have available," said Gary J. Arthur, director of the Department of Recreation and Parks. "We're trying to be reasonable."

Arthur's department asked for $2.3 million in the county's proposed budget this year for the lights, artificial turf on the two multipurpose fields and other construction expenses at the park, which is being built off Route 97, along Carrs Mill Road.

When it is completed, the park is slated to have another five unlighted fields, along with more than 90 acres left in a natural state and about three miles of trails.

Budget OK needed

The budget is awaiting changes or approval from County Executive James N. Robey, who heard testimony on the park and other issues last week. The budget then will go to the County Council.

Under the most recent plan, the department would install lights on the five fields scheduled to open in spring 2005. Those fields would be used until 11 p.m., allowing children to play earlier in the evening and adult leagues to meet later.

"Anytime we have a regional park, we have to consider adult recreation in the mix," Arthur said. Without the lights, children and adults would have to share the daylight hours.

He said the department plans to put the lighted fields in the part of the park closest to the Glenwood library and two small shopping centers, which are lighted. He also said the department plans to buy a type of light that limits the illumination spilling into surrounding areas.

"Lighting, in our estimation, allows us to be the most efficient provider of athletic fields," Arthur said.

Fields are lighted at Rockburn Branch, Centennial and Cedar Lane parks. Lights are planned for parks to be built on the Blandair property in Columbia and the Troy House site on Route 100, Arthur said.

Joe Markwordt, who lives near Western Regional Park, has coached several western Howard soccer programs. He said scheduling fields is the biggest headache for recreational soccer, baseball and football leagues.

`Painfully obvious'

"I have spent many hours stressing because one thing is painfully obvious, from Elkridge to Lisbon, we do not have enough fields to accommodate the demands and growth for our sports programs," he wrote in his testimony for the county executive. "We are not even close."

Markwordt, who works in technology sales, said that as a resident, "I am willing to endure whatever nuisances ... that will allow our children to stay closer to home and to give other communities a break."

But other area residents are not convinced the lighted fields would be so easy to ignore.

Clevenger and some of his neighbors near Western Regional Park would have a clear view of the lights from their yards and porches. They fear they would hear the games late into the night and don't want to deal with what they believe would be a significant increase in traffic.

They also expect the area would need more police to watch for troublemakers drawn to the area, especially at night.

`Rural atmosphere'

"We moved here for the rural atmosphere," said Pam Smith, whose yard borders the park. She said her family was willing to give up some amenities for the country surroundings.

Smith, a supervisor at the Johns Hopkins University, said she worries that if lights are put in place and the area is changed, it would be easier for the county to allow other businesses to move in along Route 97.

Plans for the park started several years ago, Arthur said, when the county bought the former farm in 1995. Early discussions drew hundreds of residents who spoke out against amenities that might change the character of that part of the county, he said. So, a 12-member panel created an outline that eliminated original suggestions such as an amphitheater and a lake, and focused on sports fields and nature trails.

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