Split vote sends Keystone lights debate to next level

OK's preliminary work on River Forest light poles

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By Stephanie Thies

The River Forest Park board voted Monday night to move forward with plans to install lights on the west field at Keystone Park.

Following a neighborhood meeting required by the village's Development Review Board (DRB) to allow public input on the plan, commissioners voted 3-2 to proceed with the underground portion of the work. The vote was intended to expedite the process in hopes that the lights could be up for soccer season in the fall. Commissioners Holly A. Hirst and Dale L. Jones cast the dissenting votes.

At the neighborhood meeting immediately preceding the regular park board meeting, numerous residents voiced concerns about the lights being erected in their neighborhood. John Heakin, of 344 Keystone, said he was unhappy with the lights in east Keystone and the noise, trash and cars that come with summer baseball games in the park.

"The lights stay on past 10 p.m. and our house is bathed in light," he said. "It's totally unnecessary that they do this seven days a week and late because there are other parks that are empty."

Commissioner Hirst maintained her position that the board should take adequate time to talk about the effect of the lights and that the decision should not be rushed regardless of the public's positive reaction to the lights recently constructed on the east side of Keystone.

"This is one of the biggest issues we will confront and we shouldn't put it on a fast track for the sake of [getting to] other issues," Hirst said. "It's a matter of fairness, it's out of respect to our neighbors, it's out of respect to the DRB and out of respect to the village."

The approved proposal would authorize the park district to go ahead with plans to contract for preliminary work with Penner Electric. The plans, which would allow the underground work and pole bases to be installed, would cost $39,525 and expedite the installation of lights if and when it is approved by the village board.

After the DRB reviews the completed application for lighting, it will schedule a meeting with the park district to review the application and allow parks representatives to plead their case. After the review, the DRB will allow time for public comment and then vote on whether to recommend the issue to the village board for consideration. Park Board Executive Director Thomas Grundin said he thought they may be able to schedule a hearing with the DRB by late August or early September.

The Development Review Board voted 5-0 in July 2004 to reject the district's first application to install lights in Keystone West after intense neighbor objections. The DRB issued a finding that the application had failed to meet 6 of 13 standards required by village code.

Neighborhood resistance continued through last fall, with numerous individuals testifying every time lights were on the park district or village board agenda. That included a September 13 village board meeting at which the park district withdrew it lights application in a tactical move following a motion for the village board to accept the DRB's July vote.

The re-application for Keystone West lights has already attracted the attention of the River Forest Village Board, which will ultimately pass judgment on the project. At the conclusion of Monday's River Forest Village Board Meeting, members briefly discussed the fact that they would soon be faced with the decision of whether to approve the lights.

Village President Frank Paris said he thought it would be wise for board members to begin to familiarize themselves with the issue, as well as get public input.

"Initially there were some objections to the [west] lights, and probably still is," Paris said. "I intend to talk to some of the people there and get a better feeling for it."

Bill Dwyer contributed to this report.

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