Residents flocked to Monday’s Town Board meeting to discuss the John Jay Futbol Club’s request to put up lights at Onatru Farm Park for a three-week period.
Chris Rietsch, Goldens Bridge resident and president of JJFC since 2014, requested to place four to six lights around fields one and two, in the park’s northeast corner, beginning Sunday, Nov. 1, and ending Nov. 22. The lights will be placed in the corners of the fields as well as near the drop-off/pick-up area for safety. He said the lights will only be used between 4:30 and 8:30 p.m., from Monday through Thursday each week.
Mr. Rietsch said no games will be held at Onatru and the lights will never be used on the weekends. The lights are LED and will be diesel-powered. In terms of their visibility, which is a major concern among residents, Mr. Rietsch said the light towers are 30-feet tall and emit light up to 250 feet. From 250 feet away, Mr. Rietsch said the lights emit the same amount of light as a 6-inch candle.
Mr. Rietsch also provided information on the noise level of the generator that will power the lights. He said the generator would emit noise at 75 decibels, which he noted is five decibels louder than a dishwasher and 15 decibels louder than a normal conversation.
Mr. Rietsch said the club is making this request because after daylight savings goes into effect Nov. 1, it will be too dark to practice on the fields without the lights. Due to the pandemic, the club cannot use an indoor practice facility this year as it has in the past.
“We have no option to utilize the school fields or go indoors where viral loads can become problematic,” Mr. Rietsch said.
He added that the use of the lights will only be temporary, so the children can complete their fall season of soccer. Mr. Rietsch said that over 400 children in the community play soccer, and the club has been an amazing outlet for kids during the pandemic.
“We would love to be able to continue to play,” Mr. Rietsch said.
Ian Harris, chairman of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Council, said that the council voted in favor of the soccer club’s request, noting that lights would be temporary and encourage recreation. He recommended the town board approve the request.
Following Mr. Rietsch’s presentation to the board, Town Supervisor Peter Parsons shared some of what he described as “intense” letters from residents. Mr. Parsons said the neighbors feel that the town keeps pushing for more uses of Onatru without consulting the nearby residents. Many neighbors specifically referenced that Onatru Farm Park was donated by Alice Lane Poor with the intention to preserve the rural farming atmosphere of Lewisboro.
Mr. Parsons said the clear sentiment from the majority of letters he received, including one from his wife and Lewisboro Garden Club member Timi Parsons, is that residents strongly object to the use of lights at Onatru, even on a temporary basis.
The conversation was then opened to public comment, and many residents of nearby Tri Brook Drive and Elmwood Road, turned out to express their opposition.
The biggest concern among neighbors was that the implementation of the lights will extend past the three-week period requested by JJFC. Many residents said they were fearful that the town is using this as a trial run for permanent lights at Onatru.
A resident of Elmwood Road expressed concern about the possible environmental impacts of the lights. “The light poles and diesel generators will impact the wildlife in the area,” the resident said. “They’ll disrupt the circadian rhythm of songbirds.”
Some neighbors said they were never notified about the request to install lights and only found out the day of the meeting.
Several speakers complained that the they have seen club members failing to comply with mask guidelines.
Parents of children in JJFC and supporters of the club said they welcomed the opportunity for the youth soccer players to finish their season.
“2020 has sucked for everyone but it’s been even harder for the kids,” one resident said.
Many parents of children in the club shared how important the club has been this year, offering opportunities for their children to socialize and get outside during the pandemic.
Following public comment, Mr. Parsons apologized to residents for not informing them of the request prior. Mr. Parsons also echoed some of the concerns of residents, stating that he also feared light pollution from the proposed equipment. He said he would abstain from voting on the request due to a conflict of interest.
The other board members expressed support for the light proposal at Onatru. The board members also assured residents that the installation would be temporary, and their approval was not intended to set a precedent for future proposals.
Councilmember Dan Welsh recommended to the board that they approve the club’s request on the contingency that the failure of anyone at the practice to abide by mask-wearing rules will result in the practice ending.
The board, with the exception of Mr. Parsons, unanimously supported to approve JJFC’s request on the contingency of strong enforcement of mask wearing.
During the meeting’s first public comment period, multiple residents spoke about burglaries in Vista that occurred during the early morning hours of Monday, Oct. 26. Multiple residents said the break-ins showed a need for more police in the town and an increase in the police budget.
Peter Cipriano, the owner of Copia Home and Garden, said that the police department needs a plate reader or a camera on Route 123. One of the businesses that was burglarized, The Farmer’s Grind, shares a building with Copia Home and Garden.
Lewisboro Police Chief David Alfano addressed the break-ins at the end of the meeting, confirming that three commercial business were burglarized in Vista. Mr. Alfano said that in all three cases, the glass and doors were smashed in to gain entry and the cash registers were stolen.
Thanks to the help of residents, Chief Alfano said police found the cash registers. In addition, Chief Alfano also said that Lewisboro Police and New York State Police, with assistance of police departments in surrounding communities, have developed a list of possible suspects for further investigation.
Special events and outdoor local sales law
Mr. Parsons asked the board to consider a law allowing outdoor special events and sales in the nonresidential districts of Lewisboro through the issuance of a permit. Mr. Parsons said he wanted to bring this item to the meeting after being approached by a shopping center for permission for a food truck.
Mr. Parsons said the use of food trucks has been extremely successful in Pound Ridge, and the local shopping centers, like Oakridge Commons, are struggling to attract customers. He asked town attorney Anthony Molé to draft a law for Lewisboro town code based on Pound Ridge’s law.
Mr. Welsh said he had some concerns about the way the law is written, noting that it is vague and puts a lot of discretion in the hands of the approving body, which he thinks should be the planning board.
The board began a lengthy discussion about the possible new law allowing outdoor special events and how best way to implement it is in Lewisboro. Councilmember Jennifer Castelhano asked the owners of The Farmer’s Grind in Vista, which utilized food trucks over the summer, to share their experience. The owners, Erich Smith and Michelle Piacente, said the food trucks brought new business to their store and that it helped them expand their customer base.
The board discussed whether the law should be written as a special-use permit or an accessory-use permit. Mr. Molé advised the board that a special-use permit is easier to obtain, and that accessory use is a more intensive permit application but is more permanent.
Mr. Parsons said that he does not want businesses to spend all of their time in front of the Planning Board to receive approval for a permit and would like to make this as easy as possible for businesses. The board agreed that the process should be as easy as possible.
The board said it will continue to look into the matter by surveying how neighboring towns have handled similar measure. Mr. Parsons said he will talk to the supervisors of Pound Ridge and Bedford.