Francis Parker Neighbors furious over plans to light soccer field
Turn down the lights
01/26/2011 10:00 PM
A group of Lincoln Park residents is up in arms over the Francis W. Parker School’s recently announced plans to have “stadium” lighting shine on its abutting soccer field.
At a public meeting held two weeks ago, representatives of Parker — an independent pre-kindergarten through 12th grade school at 330 W. Webster Ave. in Lincoln Park — unveiled designs to install flood lights at their soccer field to allow the school’s teams to play night games.
According to residents who attended the meeting, the school stated that the lights, which would be mounted on four 58-foot high posts, could possibly be used over one hundred times a year for scheduled games that would run roughly from 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
The project also calls for a re-surfacing of the field and beautifying of pathways along the bordering streets of Lincoln Park West and Webster.
Skyline was unable to obtain a copy of the plan by press time on Wednesday. Parker did not respond to calls and e-mails for this story.
The proposal has been met by speedy resistance, as evident in the overnight creation of the Francis Parker Neighbors, a group formed with the express mission of stopping the plan for the lights.
Tom Silfen, a main organizer with the group, said that one of the major issues behind the opposition was that the glare from the lights would block the night sky and hinder neighbors in the area from enjoying the twilight.
“We are hugely concerned that we are going to face a fundamental change in the character of this neighborhood,” he said.
Silfen and his wife Deborah Cohen live in a building just north of the school. They estimated that the lights would affect residents within about a 3-block radius of the field, as well as neighbors in some of the taller residences in the area, like the Belden Stratford Hotel to the south and the Mies Van Der Rohe on the Park building at 2400 N. Lakeview Ave.
“Those people are paying for their views, and now at night they are going to see a lightship down there,” said Silfen.
More than 375 people as of Wednesday have signed petitions to stop the plan from moving forward, both on paper and on an online petition linked to the Francis Parker Neighbors’ website. Along with their signatures, opponents of the project have aired complaints ranging from fears of lowered property values to how the lighting would affect the presence of migratory birds on the lakefront.
In response to the backlash, last week Parker issued a letter to parents stating that the school had meet with neighbors and Ald. Vi Daley (43rd) during the preliminary planning for the project and that another presentation was scheduled for an upcoming parent committee meeting at the school.
The letter acknowledged that flyers in opposition to the plan had already begun circulating in the neighborhood and urged parents “to respectfully decline the information and not support their stance.”
In a letter to Silfen posted on the Francis Parker Neighbors’ site, Parker’s assistant principal Damian Jones stated that the school “remains open to continued conversation … regarding this matter in order to clarify plans.”
The school will need approval from the Chicago Plan Commission in order to construct and operate the lights. The city’s website shows that there are currently no hearings scheduled for that application.
Moving forward, Ald. Daley said that public input would be present in the planning for the field project. In regard to Parker’s stance, she said that the school was taking all of the necessary steps in the process and that they are aware of the opposition mounting against the plan.
“I don’t know what will happen,” said Daley. “If there’s too much opposition, I’m not sure if they are going to drop this.”
The budding fight at Parker smacks of another nearby controversy: the infamous Latin School of Chicago soccer field case. In 2008, Lincoln Park residents took the private school and the city to court over what a judge eventually deemed an illegal lease deal made over public park space that was being converted into a soccer field. Two subsequent lawsuits followed, one over the recoupment of legal fees and the other regarding the use of artificial turf at the site.
Cohen, who is also a member of the Francis Parker Neighbors, said that her group wasn’t ruling out the option of taking Parker down the same legal path.
“It would be terribly unfortunate if it went there,” she said. “On the other hand, I’m not sure what choice the neighbors really have if the project continues.”