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Little League field light proposal strikes out

Traffic and parking issues need to be worked out

Feb. 19, 2013

Whitefish Bay - The Little League's plan to install field lights at Craig Counsell Park struck out Monday night after residents of neighboring Lydell and Bay Ridge avenues brought a trio of issues to the plate: parking, traffic and safety.

Though the Little League was before a joint meeting of the Village Board and Plan Commission for the go ahead to light two of the fields at Craig Counsell Park, neighbors seized the opportunity to air their concerns over the bustle and traffic resulting from games.

Beside Little League President Josh Levy, only one resident spoke in favor of the lights, against a crowd of 17 residents who spoke in opposition and eight more who indicated their disapproval.

Ultimately, plan commissioners and village trustees voted unanimously to deny the request for lights and direct village staff to look into ways to alleviate parking and traffic issues around the park.

"We have to fix the parking situation on Lydell," Trustee Jay Miller said. "If we did that, the lights could be something we could address."

The denial means the Little League won't have lights this season but could bring the idea back next year, a prospect which makes Levy hopeful.

"I'm glad the village … will dedicate resources to (the parking issues)," he said after the meeting, adding of fields lights, "Long term, there's still an opportunity there."

The pitch

During a presentation of the lighting plan, Levy said lights would allow the Little League to schedule more make up games and doubleheaders, as well as move start times back to 6 p.m., which would be easier on those who typically need to take off work early to attend games.

"We really have to do doubleheaders to get our games in," Levy said. "The lights give us the opportunity to get those games in, in a way that's convenient for families and volunteers."

He said the lights would be used for between 15 and 25 games per season at about 75 minutes of added activity per night. Levy said that he and the park neighbors had come to a number of compromises after a recent meeting.

They decided the lights should go off either at 10 p.m. or whenever games end, whichever would be sooner, and concluded the lights shouldn't be used outside of the Little League season.

He said the Little League is supportive of a number of proposed parking restrictions meant to reduce traffic and parking in the area.

"They're preaching to the choir when they're speaking to me (about parking)," Levy said.

Paul Otero was the lone resident who spoke out in support of the lights.

"Anything that promotes more baseball in this community is a great thing," he said.

Out of the park

The crowd of residents who spoke out in opposition of the lights - many of whom are residents of Lydell or Bay Ridge avenues - brought up the traffic which backs up the parking lot adjoining the park, along Lydell Avenue, and at times even in their driveways.

"With all this activity taking place at nighttime it's just going to get worse," Lydell Avenue resident Tom Sullivan said.

The traffic and parking issues, they said, pose safety threats to them and their children.

"(Lights would move traffic) out into the dark with our kids," resident Richard Shallack said. "The lights aren't a necessity. Kids enjoy the games just fine."

Some said lights could reduce their property values. Reading from an email conversation with a local Realtor, resident Pam Ruppa told trustees and commissioners she had been advised not to show her house if the lights were on, and that it would likely be difficult to sell if she wanted to.

Others took issue with the park's expansion over time, citing the change from one field decades ago to three fields now, and wondered what lights could mean over time.

"I see this snowballing into a 'what's next'?" resident Douglas Moore said.

Trustees go to bat for residents

Without first solving the traffic, parking and safety issues surrounding Craig Counsell Park, trustees and commissioners said they wouldn't be comfortable approving the lights and expanding the league's hours.

"I'm concerned, even without the addition of lights, that we have traffic and safety issues in that part of the village," Trustee Lauri Rollings said. "We'd be putting the cart in front of the horse."

"The village is committed to look at a lot of different things to alleviate the traffic and parking," Village President Julie Siegel said.

Miller unsuccessfully moved to table the discussion so the board could revisit the issue after a few weeks of village research into parking. The final motion passed by the board and commission denied the lights and directed village staff to look into the issues.

Trustee Brenda Szumski said the village could use the time between now and the 2014 Little League season to assess the impact of any policy changes before taking up the lights again.

"Once we have a sense of the changed parking," she said, "and more how that affects the neighborhood itself."

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