NEWS

Stadium lighting proposal voted down by Kalamazoo City Commission

Wednesday, Dec 23, 2015

The light has been doused on a proposal to regulate stadium lighting throughout the city of Kalamazoo – at least for the immediate future.

But Kalamazoo College will be able to go ahead with a limited number of nights with lights next year at its football stadium and soccer field.

The Kalamazoo City Commission unanimously voted down city ordinance amendments Monday that would regulate lighting for outdoor sports stadiums and recreational facilities.

The amendments sought to set citywide standards for lights mounted 25 feet or higher at such facilities, including the location of light poles, the intensity of their illumination, when lights may be turned on, and how they must be shielded and angled away for neighboring properties.

The lack of a new city ordinance allows an interim agreement between the city and Kalamazoo College to continue in perpetuity after Dec. 31. It permits Kalamazoo College – whose athletic facilities were the only properties that would have been immediately impacted by a new stadium lighting ordinance -- to push ahead with plans to light some athletic practices and other events during 2016.

"They get 20 nights (per year) until 8:30 with the lights on," Kalamazoo City Attorney Clyde Robinson said of Kalamazoo College. "And they can do whatever they want during those 20 nights. That was a condition of the rezoning that K-College got back in 2012."

He said the college's soccer field is also subject to a contract zoning ordinance that was adopted in 2012.

"They get 60 nights a year until 10:30 on the soccer field, which is a little further from the neighborhood," Robinson said, "until they ask for it to be changed."

The city had been looking to replace an interim agreement it made in 2012 with Kalamazoo College as the college was doing renovations of its athletic facilities. The heart of it is a contract zoning ordinance (No. 1896) that indicates that if the new citywide ordinance was not in place by Dec. 31, 2015, Kalamazoo College would be able to begin lighting its football field in 2016, ostensibly after July.

Monday was the City Commission's last regular meeting of the year, meaning it was the last chance for the commission to approve a citywide lighting ordinance.

Commissioners voted down a citywide proposal Monday that took city planning department staffers more than nine months to craft, saying they would give Kalamazoo College and residents of the adjacent West Main Hill neighborhood the opportunity to come up with solutions that meet both their needs.

Commissioners ended a three-hour meeting Monday without setting a timeline or guidelines for those negotiations, however. And commissioner Matt Milcarek also said he wants to see the commission draft a citywide lighting proposal some time in the future. He was among those who said they were concerned that it will have points that overlap a citywide noise ordinance that is expected to be drafted in 2016.

Bright stadium lights have been at the heart of arguments for and against a citywide lighting ordinance for a long time. Kalamazoo College said it needs lights for its football team and other athletic teams to practice longer and play. Without them, it has said, its teams are at a competitive disadvantage against other schools.

Residents of the nearby West Main Hill neighborhood say the glare of stadium lights will negatively impact their quality of life and, with added hours of activity that the lights allow, will be accompanied by noise and pedestrian traffic late into the evening. They fear it will reduce property values and be a security risk as more traffic invades the area.

West Main Hill neighborhood resident Bruce Martin was one of three Kalamazoo residents who urged the city commission to reject the proposed citywide ordinance, let Kalamazoo College's contract zoning ordinance continue, and allow neighbors to work out solutions with Kalamazoo College.

Speaking of him and his wife, Martin said, "Vicky and I and our neighbors have the dream that K-College and its nearby neighbors around the football field and the rest of the neighborhood can work together with a little bit of encouragement from the city commission."

He suggested that the commission send the proposal back to the city administration staff "and let them work on this for the whole city and not just K-College. ... That's the best way to proceed."

Kate Worster, vice president of marketing and communications for Kalamazoo College, said that if the commission declined to pass its new citywide ordinance, "We will be glad to continue the conversation with our neighbors."

Martin said, "K-College and the neighborhood are joined at the hip. And I think we've lost sight of that. ... We'd like the chance to discuss all of that with K."

Vice Mayor Don Cooney was among city commissioners who said they took those statements as signs that the college and it neighbors may come up with a more satisfying resolution than one proposed by the city.

"When they say, 'Hey, we can work this out,' it's hard for me to say we know more than them," Cooney said. "I would be very willing to let the people work this out."

Max Tibbitts, a resident of the Stuart Neighborhood who has been involved with discussions on the lighting ordinance, urged commissioners to vote against the citywide proposal, saying 20 nights of stadium lights until 8:30 at Kalamazoo College's football stadium "is not hurting anyone."

Kalamazoo College officials have said they actually need to have a minimum of 30 nights per year with lights to allow teams to practice longer.

"So it's in their best interest to work with the neighborhood to provide a mechanism for any disruptive behavior," Tibbitts said, "because if the neighborhood would ever approve the 30 nights, they're (K-College is) going to have to show due diligence. ... And if they do their jobs well and prove well, there won't be any problem in going for 30 in a couple of years."

The contract zoning agreement

Here are the specifics of the contract zoning ordinance (No. 1896) that governs the use of stadium lights at Kalamazoo College, as provided by Rob Bauckham, senior development planner for the City if Kalamazoo:

In 2012, Kalamazoo College applied to have the campus rezoned to the Institutional Campus (IC) zone. As required by the rezoning process, the school updated their campus master plan to extend it to 2022. The rezoning was in the form of a contract, which included conditions for the lighting of the soccer field and the football field. (contract ordinance #1896) One condition specified that the soccer field could be lighted up to 60 nights per year with the lights being turned off by 10:30 p.m. each night. Additionally, (City of Kalamazoo) Planning staff was charged with drafting a new ordinance to be adopted by the end of 2015 to regulate the lighting of outdoor sports and recreational fields/stadiums citywide. Ordinance 1896 indicates that if the new ordinance is not in place by Dec. 31, 2015, Kalamazoo College would be able to begin lighting the football field in 2016 for up to 20 nights per year with the lights being turned off by 8:30 p.m. each night.

 

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