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Supervisors approve lights at Franklin Park sports grounds

A divided Board of Supervisors approved Wednesday night a nearly $1.2 million endeavor to provide lighting at sports fields, tennis courts and an in-line skating rink at Franklin Park at Purcellville.

The 6-2-1 vote, with Chairman Scott York (R-At Large) and Supervisor Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin) opposed and Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) absent, comes after months of study and contentious public input from western Loudoun residents fearful that bright lights perched at high elevation will take away from the charm of the rural landscape.

The sports grounds need the lights to increase access and availability for youth recreation, supervisors who supported the lighting said. Moreover, the negative impacts to the surrounding environment are minimal in their eyes.

Supervisor Shawn Williams (R-Broad Run), the board's vice chairman, said pictures from a recent lighting test appear to be little more than a “flashlight.”

The fields will not be later than 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and never on Sundays.

The supervisors' approval goes against a recommendation from the Planning Commission to deny the lights. The commission opposed the proposal by a 7-1-1 vote, reasoning that the limited hours of field lighting do not justify the capital expense and "that conditions cannot adequately mitigate the adverse effects of field lighting on a hilltop" in the rural part of the county, according to a staff report. That objection was shared by several residents who spoke out against the lighting plan Wednesday.

Supervisor Janet Clarke (R-Blue Ridge), who represents the area of Franklin Park and resides near the fields, was an unwavering supporter of the lighting proposal. Clarke pointed out that funding for the project was approved nearly two years ago and the plan has been studied and debated thoroughly. In the end, the Blue Ridge supervisor said, the lights will allow for increased sporting opportunities for the county's western youth.

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