Lighting saga at Towe ignites tonight

An early 1990s upgrade lit the softball fields at McIntire Park, but players have now been told that their days here are numbered.

In the form of a public meeting Wednesday night, the next step in Darden Towe's athletic field makeover will recommence.

Towe, the city-county owned park, has been in the midst of change for five months now. In a Board of Supervisors meeting April 2, the first indications of re-considering athletic field lighting emerged when a citizen requested the tennis courts be lit. However, due to a long-standing understanding on behalf of the City and County to leave Towe a "daytime" park–- according to Towe neighbors–- the fields and courts have remained dark. After amending the original use agreement to allow for lighting contingent on mutual agreement by the City and County, the opportunity to light Towe's fields is very much achievable. Tonight, the future of the park's athletic fields are in the hands of the public.

"I'm very anxious to hear from the public," says Board of Supervisors Chair Ken Boyd. "The big question is, are the neighborhoods still against it?"

Tonight, the Board of Supervisors is holding an open public meeting to determine the next step for Towe's tennis courts. Neighbors remember the disruption of light pollution when the City's Pen Park was lit three years ago, violating the City's Dark Sky ordinance.

"The City and County agreed verbally and in writing not to light Darden Towe," says Towe neighbor Clara Belle Wheeler in regards to the potential for future lightings. "There were never to be lights at that park."

Whatever the public decrees tonight will set the standard for the rest of Towe's athletic fields, including the three unlit softball fields. Because of the planned the loss of the two lit softball fields means the exile of organized softball from at McIntire Park, the softball community has turned its focus on lighting the fields at Towe in order to continue the same standard and quantity of play. According to County Director of Parks and Recreation Pat Mullaney, whatever happens with the tennis courts will set the standard for the softball fields.

Lighting the tennis courts would fall within the County's current lighting ordinance, allowing the lights to automatically cut-off at an arranged time. With advances in lighting technology, the lights would not influence Towe's surrounding neighborhoods, according to City Director of Parks and Recreation Mike Svetz. If the proposal receives enough public support to pass through the Supervisors, and later City Council, the lighting is projected to cost $125,000, with an annual operating budget of $900, to be divided among the City and County.