It’s fair to assume everyone in Marion is familiar with Tabor Academy’s athletic fields at the corners of Spring Street, Ryder Lane, and Front Street. For decades, Tabor Academy has occupied prime real estate in the village alongside residences in a mostly peaceful co-existence. However, the application for a Special Permit to construct five 90-foot high light towers dressed with LED lamps to illuminate the sports fields brought out a few abutters who believe Tabor isn’t playing fair.
Tabor’s Head of School John Quirk made his presentation to the Marion Zoning Board of Appeals on June 14. He is requesting the Special Permit for the lighting plan due to the height of the proposed poles — any lighting over 35 feet high requires permitting, according to the Town’s bylaw, stated Marion Building Inspector Scott Shippey.
Quirk said that when the fields were expanded and upgraded some seven years ago, it was always Tabor’s plan to add lighting for use of the fields after sundown. However, given the litigation that found Tabor as the defendant and the Town of Marion as the plaintiff in the absence of an application for permission to do so, the lights were never installed. Part of the Court’s decision required that Tabor file a separate new application for lighting plans.
Now armed with lighting and glare studies, Quirk explained the institution’s rationale.
“We always planned to light the fields,” said Quirk. “It would be advantageous to school activities. Also, the town could use the fields in reasonable ways. It’s exciting and interesting for the community.”
Continuing, Quirk explained that he had been working with the neighbors to allay parking and noise concerns.
“We’ve done our best to make our requests to the town a collaboration with our neighbors,” Quirk said.
ZBA Chairman Marc LeBlanc asked how the study was calculated.
Mike Berry of Musco Lighting, presented a glare study that demonstrated light spillage would not disturb the neighborhood. Berry said that use of LED blubs at that height provides better illumination than older halogen lights, and the increased height would provide the correct geometry for the beams. But concerns remained.
The Planning Board submitted a letter pointing to such issues as parking, pedestrian safety, traffic, and light pollution, all problems they thought required further consideration. Some abutters concurred.
Heather Burke, 68 Front Street, said, “This is a bad idea that continues. There’s no benefit to the town. Initially the town was opposed. Frankly, citizens are tired of this project.” She went on to say that if the permit was granted then it should include language that clearly spells out the availability of the fields for town events. Burke, an ORR School Committee member, added that other fields were available for night games, such as at ORR. Burke said that effective screening of the lights at the height requested would be impossible.
Shelly Richins, 22 Cottage Street, said the light towers would be unattractive and wondered how that could add value to her property.
Bob Sanderson, 17 Ryder Lane, said he currently enjoys a harbor view and that at night the lights would give the area a stadium look. He too questioned the impact on property values.
But not everyone expressed displeasure with the application.
Barbara Sanderson said, “I like the idea of lights. We watch the games; it’s a fun thing to do. I like it. It’s a nice part of the neighborhood.”
Jay Ryder, a former Planning Board member, said that before Quirk’s appointment as head of school, relationships between Tabor and the municipality were strained, but since his appointment things had improved.
“My feeling is there’s been so much litigation, so much money spent we will never know what the lights are like until the lights are up,” Ryder said. “Let’s try them for a year.”
Albin Johnson, 47 Spring Street, said he had reviewed the engineering plan for the lighting system and was satisfied it would not impose a negative impact on the neighborhood.
Quirk said that, at the present time, the plan was to use the lights to allow play to continue after dark and for occasional night games. LeBlanc asked him if he could provide a calendar of events that would show the school’s schedule for night use. The ZBA also asked for visual renderings of the light poles to aid in a better understanding of how they would look once erected.
Debate and discussion continued for nearly two hours as pros and cons were weighed. At one point, Quirk said that there were philosophical questions regarding the lighting plan and asked for candor from the ZBA members and the abutters, saying, “This is very important to us. Can we overcome hurtles?”
ZBA member Katherine Mahoney said she believed she didn’t have all the information necessary and that this wasn’t a power struggle or debate.
The board members said they needed more time and more details. The hearing was continued until July 26.
Also continued was a request for a change of use Special Permit submitted by Teeracai Srisirikul, for property located at 362 Front Street. Currently the structures on the property are permitted for use as commercial condominiums. Srisirikul requested consideration of a plan that would convert the buildings into residential units.
The ZBA members felt they needed bylaw clarifications from town counsel. The hearing was continued until July 12.
A Variance hearing for Constance Dolan, 9 Beach Street, for the construction of an attached one-car garage found Mahoney questioning the hardship Dolan was using in the application – property value in parity with her neighbors’.
There was also a question in Mahoney’s estimation regarding how the bylaw describes a non-conformity. Shippey attempted to explain how a building may conform on one side but not another and thus, if the garage were permitted, that side of the home would now be non-conforming requiring the application to be a Variance versus a Special Permit.
Mahoney was not convinced the applicant had fully checked all the boxes for a Variance to be granted, but the board closed the hearing, telling Dolan they had 90 days to render a decision.
Later in the evening, after the conference room cleared but before the meeting was adjourned, Mahoney circled back to the Dolan application, saying, “I don’t see a hardship.”
ZBA member Betsy Dunn said they had done it many times in the past but wasn’t sure under what type of filing. Mahoney said, “Property values are not our issue.”
The next meeting of the Marion Zoning Board of Appeals is scheduled for June 28 at 7:30 pm in the town hall conference room.
Marion Zoning Board of Appeals
By Marilou Newell