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Lights at Rosemont Ridge fields spark heated debate

Council voted tentatively to approve use of lights until 10 p.m.

In an appeal hearing Monday, the West Linn City Council voted tentatively in favor of a West Linn-Wilsonville School District proposal to allow athletic field lights at Rosemont Ridge Middle School to stay on until 10 p.m., rather than 9 p.m., thus reversing a unanimous Sept. 17 Planning Commission ruling against the application.

The final ruling won’t be made until Dec. 8, when the council returns for another meeting and hears options from city staff about new conditions of approval that might add further light screening and buffering to the site.

“If you are dissatisfied with the conditions that come back and feel that it does not address the concern, you could always reverse your decision (to approve the school district application),” Associate City Planner Peter Spir said.

The athletic field lights at Rosemont Ridge were originally approved back in 2009, with language stating that “all lighting shall be oriented to create no off site illumination and the light fixtures shall be screen to allow no off-site glare” while also stipulating that “pole lighting must be turned off at 9 p.m. including game days.”

This past June, the school district applied for what it termed to be a “minor” modification, pushing the light deadline to 10 p.m. as opposed to 9 p.m., thus allowing “sufficient time for an additional game or practice to occur on each field.”

Though the district stated in its application that “planning staff and the police department have heard no complaints from neighbors about the lights or associated noise,” a number of local residents submitted testimony during the planning commission hearings in August, claiming that the lights and associated activities at the athletic fields had become invasive and even caused property damage.

In its final ruling Sept. 17, the Planning Commission unanimously denied the school district’s application, citing a number of factors including “inadequate” screening of the lights on the site and the negative effects on cattle farming and quality of life to neighbors. Put simply, according to the planning commission, “the additional hour of light was not deemed necessary when considering the additional impact to adjacent neighborhoods.”

In both a written submittal to the city and its testimony Monday, the school district claimed that it was not presented the opportunity to properly rebut certain statements at the Planning Commission hearings and that “this departure from ‘normal’ procedure didn’t allow an opportunity to discuss or agree to a condition of approval that might impose limitations on time of use or creation of other mitigation measures.”

“As indicated in the appeal, the school district did not feel like it had the opportunity to discuss issues at the planning commission,” said Keith Liden, who spoke on behalf of the school district Monday. “We didn’t have the normal rebuttal time.”

Following the school district’s 20-minute presentation Monday, four local residents spoke out against the additional light time. Dave Seida, a fourth generation farmer who lives on a neighboring property, said that even the 9 p.m. cutoff had proven to be problematic since the lights were installed.

“The lights are so bright that I can actually read a book in my bedroom with the lights off,” Seida said. Additionally, Seida said that his property had been trespassed on numerous occasions, resulting in theft and property damage.

“Illumination and later access will cause more trespassing at an even later time,” he said. “I’m totally in favor of sports in school, but at what point is enough enough?”

Another resident, Kent Seida, said “I think the school is kind of a sham. They have a history of not doing what they promised to do. ... This is to educate children, not a sports complex.”

In his rebuttal on behalf of the school district, Liden flatly denied that the athletic fields were being used to drive profits.

“It’s been asserted that this is a for-profit sports complex, and it’s not — it’s a community facility,” Liden said. “It does have other people besides middle schoolers using the field, including people in the community. Sometimes the lights are on so people can just run the track.”

In the end, the council tentatively sided in favor of the school district, so long as there are added conditions to mitigate light and noise from the fields.

“I do understand the concerns of the neighborhood, and would be open to conditioning the application,” City Councilor Thomas Frank said. “There is light trespass that was not happening before.”

“There are many other issues that don’t directly relate to the screening,” City Council President Jody Carson said. “We can’t address those, but hopefully the school district will address them.”

Planning Commissioner and Council-elect Russ Axelrod, who sat in on the hearing, came away “shocked” at the decision.

“This needs a legal analysis,” Axelrod said. “The whole thing smells, and it needs to be evaluated.”

Axelrod’s concerns centered on the idea of changing the conditions of approval in the midst of an “on the record” appeal process, during which an application cannot be altered.

At Monday’s meeting, Assistant City Attorney Megan Thornton said it was within bounds for the council to request such changes.

The council will make its final decision at a meeting scheduled for Monday at 6:30 p.m.