Efforts to keep stadium lights out of a new western Howard County park got a significant boost yesterday when County Councilman Allan H. Kittleman filed an amendment to remove funding for lights from the proposed county budget.
Kittleman, a Republican whose district includes the Western Regional Park site, said he received hundreds of e-mails and held meetings with residents on both sides of the issue before siding with the anti-lights group.
"There are many people in my district who are upset and probably an equal number that think I did the right thing," Kittleman said. "I'm just not convinced right now that the demand [for fields] requires the lights."
The County Council will vote on the budget tomorrow. Three votes are needed for the amendment to pass.
Residents have been divided over lighting since the county's Department of Recreation and Parks requested $3.2 million for lights on five fields set to open next spring, artificial turf on two fields and other construction costs.
Five more fields are planned without lights.
The Department of Recreation and Parks, backed by athletes, parents and others, says the extended playing time is needed as popular sports programs struggle to find space to play.
`Not enough fields'
"The youth sports groups are really concerned with the growth in this area," said Jack Milani, a Glenwood Springs pub owner who is treasurer for Howard County's youth lacrosse program.
"The bottom line is, there's just not enough fields," Milani said.
"I just think that [Kittleman is] letting 35 to 40 residents right around the park persuade him when there are thousands of people involved in the sports program who really want it," said David Gould of Ellicott City, president of the Soccer Association of Western Howard County.
He also said that the lights would allow parents to watch their children a little later in the evening, particulalry when it gets dark about 5 p.m. in the fall.
But many residents near the park have opposed the intrusion of light and noise on what they say are quiet country nights. They say they fear that traffic, late-night loitering and crime will accompany the evening games.
At a meeting between Kittleman and lights opponents Friday evening, many people complained that little was known about the effects of the project on an area with several farms, no shoulders on the roads and one traffic signal.
Some opponents are also concerned that the site can't handle water and waste-removal for the planned 200,000 visitors each year, particularly because residents say a nearby shopping center is unable to rent space to restaurants because of its low septic system capacity.
"We don't have the infrastructure out here that you need to have in place before you can add all these amenities," said Joan M. Becker, a real estate lawyer who lives on a horse farm near the park.
Gary J. Arthur, director of the Department of Recreation and Parks, said the Health Department tested the area and approved the site plan, and that the county is not required to do a traffic study for its project.
In an e-mail to his constituents Tuesday, Kittleman said possible adverse effects on the community outweighed the benefits of lights and that it would not be fiscally responsible to spend $780,000 on something that is not necessary.
He said sports leagues would still benefit from 10 new fields in the park and from fields at schools being built in the area.
He also addressed two areas that have been sticking points in the debate: adults' use of the fields and artificial turf.
Arthur has said that his department has a policy of giving children and adults equal time on fields. Lights would allow adults to use the fields at night and give more daylight hours to youth groups.
Kittleman said he hopes that policy might be changed at Western Regional Park, particularly if it could take young people from other areas and give adults time on lighted fields at Centennial, Cedar Lane and Rockburn Branch Parks.
Arthur has also said it would not be cost-effective to have artificial turf without the extended hours allowed by lights.
"I'm still fully in support of having the artificial turf stay in," Kittleman said.
But yesterday Arthur said, "I wouldn't support that because it isn't the most efficient use of artificial turf. ... We could utilize that money in some other locale that has lights to maximize the expenditure."
While people who opposed the lights were happy about Kittleman's decision, many were talking to other council members to gather the two additional votes, said Bruce C. Bereano, a lobbyist hired by the groups opposing the lights.
He said opponents intend to make their case right up to the council vote.