Marion residents will have additional time to submit comments on Tabor Academy’s request to add lights to a playing field, Marion Zoning Board of Appeals members ruled on December 12.
Administrators at Tabor have been trying to add light poles to the playing field, located along Spring Street, for several years. The current application seeks to add four 90-foot light poles to the playing field located between Front and Spring Streets. During the hearing, Tabor Headmaster John Quirk stated his intentions to work very closely with the Town of Marion, as board members and community members further scrutinized the lighting plans.
Quirk clarified that he expected no more than 16 to 18 events on the lighted fields per year.
“I expect no more than six to eight games in the fall and spring seasons,” he explained.
Nearby residents could also expect the field to be used for two weeks of lit practice, as well as two “community events” per season. Quirk defined community events as use of the field by Old Rochester Regional High School sports teams, as has happened in the past, as well as possible third-party events like festivals.
“It’s important to note that we actually expect fewer events,” he added, “but six to eight games per season is the absolute maximum we would have, as well as possibly two community events per season.”
The lights of the fields will never be on past 9:30 pm, barring any “unpredictable events,” such as a medical emergency or an exceptionally late game start, Quirk added.
“In all honesty, night games are rare,” said Quirk. “I’ve coached in our league for 20 years and in that time my team played four night games. But athletic participation is required by our curriculum, and a lot of the lower-level teams lack time for practice when the nights get shorter. Those two weeks of practice under the lights would be beneficial for them.”
“Would you be willing to share the technology with the emergency departments?” asked ZBA Chairman Marc LeBlanc. “I mean, they wouldn’t be cutting your lights at 9:35 pm, but, say if someone needed to be airlifted to the hospital in an emergency; the responders could just flip the switch themselves.”
Quirk confirmed that Tabor shares all such technology that they have with the town, and that he would be happy to add the lights to the list.
“How does the town know that you’re sticking to these limits you’ve set?” asked ZBA member Margie Baldwin. “Will you be alerting anyone in advance?”
According to Quirk, Tabor circulates a schedule for anyone who would like to review it. He added that neighbors are often notified if there’s a change in schedule.
One of the biggest concerns brought up by the ZBA, as well as nearby residents, was the issue of parking, and the tight quarters of Ryder Lane, which neighbors the field. Quirk clarified that Tabor would forbid parking on the street or on Ryder Lane, and would work with the town to curb parking at Island Wharf.
“We would restrict and direct parking to the Spring Street lot, the parking spots near Wickenden Chapel, and the lot at the ice rink,” Quirk said.
When asked if he needed anything further from the ZBA, Quirk asked for patience and feedback.
“We’ve tried hard to think about everything, but I’m sure that there’s something we haven’t anticipated,” said Quirk. “If there’s an issue, I want to hear about it, I want to address it, I want to fix it very quickly. I really want the feedback.”
Tabor administrators have filed with the Zoning Board of Appeals for either a special permit to allow the lighting poles on the field, or an exemption under the Dover Amendment, which exempts educational institutions from certain zoning restrictions, to do the same thing.
Approving the special permit request would require a supermajority of four ‘yes’ votes from the ZBA members; members would need satisfactory evidence that the lights are “a legitimate public need.”
If the special permit is denied by the ZBA, members can then debate allowing an exemption under the Dover Amendment. For an exception under the amendment, at least three ZBA members would need to agree that there is an “educational need” for the lights.
Marion Town Counsel Jon Witten advised ZBA members to consider the special permit first, and only turn to the Dover Amendment if the special permit cannot be approved.
“It’s much cleaner for the town in the long run,” Witten explained. “Approving something under the Dover Amendment sort of opens the door for more requests… Not that Tabor would do that, but it just gets messier after the approval is given in the first place.”
Although the ZBA closed the public hearing, they sought a way to ask for additional comments if necessary. ZBA members amended the closure to allow for additional comments from the public and from different Town departments. Written comments will be accepted until January 9, 2020. Currently, board members expect to announce a decision on Tabor’s application on January 16, 2020.
With the hearing closed, ZBA members have 90 days to deliberate before issuing their final approval on Tabor’s request.
The next meeting of the Marion ZBA will be held on January 9 at 7:00 pm. at the Marion Town House.
Marion Zoning Board of Appeals
By Andrea Ray