First reported 5/19/2009 2:48 a.m.

After three hours of discussion Monday, the Oak Park village board lit the way for night games at Oak Park and River Forest High School’s football stadium.

The village board voted to allow a special-use permit for the school to install lights at its stadium, a sports venue adjacent to a residential neighborhood on Linden Avenue.

Trustees were considering the Oak Park Plan Commission’s vote in March that failed to approve the application. The commission had voted 4-3 in favor of lights, short of the five votes needed to approve the application.

The Zoning Board of Appeals also ruled on the lights last year, failing to approve with a 3-3 vote on the application.

The village board had the final say Monday night, and trustees voted unanimously to reject the plan commission’s recommendation. But they agreed to attach more than a dozen requirements to the lights application, including forming an advisory group to help figure out solutions to make the transition easier.

Trustees urged the high school and neighbors to compromise.

“This is a classic Oak Park case of balancing the needs of one group versus the needs and rights of another group,” said Trustee Colette Lueck.

The board sided with the high school, arguing that the lights would benefit more people than they inconvenience. At the same time, they acknowledged that the lights would affect residents in the surrounding neighborhood, and they said concessions should be made.

Village President David Pope, Trustee Glenn Brewer and Trustee John Hedges attempted to send the application back to the plan commission to address some unresolved issues. But the move was voted down 4-3.

The board then unanimously agreed to approve the lights application, but with conditions. Those would include a more complete illumination study, traffic plan, limiting practices, establishing an advisory committee and paying the $2,000 it would cost to police the area during night games.

Terry Lieber, 54, a Linden Avenue neighbor who fought the lights application with a group of more than 200 nearby residents, said she was disappointed with the board’s decision. She could not say, as of Monday night, whether APRIL (Alliance to Preserve Residential Integrity and Livability) might take any legal action against the ruling. She was also uncertain whether she would take part in the lights advisory committee.

“We have to take some time to regroup,” Lieber said. “We’re all very tired. It’s been a long journey. We know it’s going to damage the quality of our life, and we have to sort of figure out how to deal with that.”

APRIL had argued that lights would bring noise and glare to the residential neighborhood and that the high school hadn’t made a strong enough case that it needed them. The group implored the board to accept previous rulings by the zoning board and plan commission.

“It’s not a mere incremental change for the neighborhood,” Lieber said before the vote. “High school events are intense, and the field is within sight and earshot to hundreds.”

On the other side, District 200 Supt. Attila Weninger said lights would allow OPRF to compete with high schools with comparable sports programs. He argued the lights would accommodate growing participation in sports teams, foster community involvement and boost revenues for the school.

Weninger said the school imposed 12 conditions on itself to help “make any adverse conditions as minimal as possible.” Those would include sticking to nine games in the fall and six in the spring; shutting off lights by 10:30 p.m. for football games, 9 p.m. for other games and 8 p.m. for practices; and no evening games or practices on Saturdays and Sundays.

Weninger said the school held off on addressing some aspects of the application, such as the traffic plan, because it wanted to wait until lights were approved, similar to the way Evanston Township High School addressed lighting at its stadium.

“We would welcome the opportunity to sit down, collaboratively, with our neighbors and work out a solution in terms of lights in the stadium.”

The board directed Village Attorney Ray Heise to draft an ordinance within 90 days that allows a special-use permit and amends the zoning text to install stadium lights. The ordinance will include the various conditions outlined by the board.

Heise said it would likely take far less than 90 days to write the ordinance but declined to provide a specific timeline.

CONTACT: mstempniak@wjinc.com

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