When the Oak Park Zoning Board of Appeals meets to consider the high school’s request to put lights on the OPRF stadium, I will be there with my neighbors to urge the board to turn them down. I will speak up to preserve the character of our neighborhood and the balance of needs that makes it viable and strong. These families that surround the high school love our neighborhood, and we value OPRF High School as a part of it. We treasure the children of Oak Park and River Forest–we wouldn’t live here if we didn’t–and we are proud to take part in the daily life surrounding our wonderful school. But make no mistake, we do have needs and rights.
I have been hurt and disheartened by the suggestion in several letters to the editor this past year that if we don’t like the lights we should just move. What a sad thing for our community if we come to view neighborhoods in this way. Our neighborhood, like yours, is not just a collection of houses. It is a group of families who have watched each other’s children grow; looked out for each other in times of need; and shared resources, advice, and celebrations together. Our homes hold years of memories, and we have worked to update them to meet our changing needs. Our gardens represent years of loving cultivation. How could any feeling person suggest we just up and leave?
My faith in the basic kindness of others makes me believe that the Huskie Booster’s campaign to railroad this issue, in what amounts to the tyranny of the majority over the rights of the minority stems from a lack of understanding of what tremendous community asset our good will represents. Hardly a day goes by that we are not drawn into the life of the high school and of your children. We wave to them in the alley each morning and worry for their safety as the cars speed through to avoid the stop sign on the corner by the school. We feel happy when we hear the crowd cheer for a base hit and are sometimes drawn from our chores to watch the game. We wake to the sounds of the bullhorn, or the marching band, or the runners’ finishing the Turtle Run, or the big machinery replacing the school roof or remodeling the mall. We try not to entertain on nights of open house, District 97 music festivals, and other major events so our guests can find a place to park. We are sometimes jarred from our sleep by shouting and the screeching of car wheels on MORP nights, and, yes, we sometimes confiscate alcoholic beverages stashed in our yards for later pick-up. It is a stimulating and interesting life here by the high school, and we embrace it. But to say we gave up our rights when we bought next to the high school is to ignore the rule of law.
There are some in Oak Park who see our neighborhood as simply a location for their children to attend school. We believe we are responsible for keeping this a safe, secure, and beautiful place for our children to attend school. Anyone who claims that the installation of stadium lights and the attendant noise, traffic, litter, and security issues brought on by night games and practices will not damage our neighborhood or threaten the investment we have made in it, is simply not being honest.
Our desire to maintain our neighborhood and our property values is no surprise to anyone. What is a surprise is that the Boosters do not see this desire to be also in their children’s best interest; that they have neither compassion nor gratitude for our vigilance, upkeep, and tolerance. Just who are they hoping will live here?
Every neighborhood has its challenges, and every resident is aware of issues that could make their own neighborhood a less than desirable place to live. This is why we have ordinances that require you to keep your property up, cap the number of pets you can have, determine how high structures can be, limit the noise you can make, or determine whether the area is zoned commercial or residential. These exist to protect your rights, even when the majority would choose to disregard them.
The strength of our community is based on the strength of our neighborhoods, and our zoning regulations are designed to protect them. If we, as a community, are willing to devalue a neighborhood and disregard the needs and rights of those living there just for the fun of seeing our kids play under Friday night lights, we will be paying a price that goes far beyond the cost of erecting those lights.