Not following Town light code still legal: Hale

Answers new alderman’s claims of ‘illegal’ park lights

With new Town of Farragut Alderman David White (Ward II, South) repeatedly vocalizing his claim in recent months that Town park lighting at Mayor Bob Leonard and McFee parks are “against code” and therefore “illegal,” that charge was answered.

Before Farragut Municipal Planning Commission’s Thursday, Sept. 15, meeting, where action on a proposed amendment to the Town’s lighting ordinance concerning ballfield lighting was postponed, Town attorney Tom Hale explained the Town is not “illegal” with MBL and McFee park lighting.

“When a municipality is designing its own facilities, like a park, that is considered a governmental activity, like a park is, under the law of Tennessee it is not required to follow its own regulations,” he said. “That’s what the general law is in the state and across the United States, actually.”

Back to drawing board

Town staff was sent back to the drawing board concerning the ballfield lighting amendment’s language during the Sept. 15 meeting.

“I’m not satisfied with the language,” Commissioner Jon Greene said.

“I still think we need to work through that,” said Vice Mayor Louise Povlin, also a commissioner.

While initially there was little discussion on the amendment, Jeanne Brykalski, spokesperson for Farragut Neighborhood Preservation Partnership, recommended changes to the proposal that would have restricted pole lights only to Mayor Bob Leonard and McFee parks, as well as Knox County Schools property.

“Our goal is to protect all residents, all homes and all neighborhoods from incompatible development, noise pollution light pollution, safety (hazards) and also to prevent loss of property value and a negative impact on our quality of life,” she said.

“They’re asking for no pole lights because they don’t want to have nighttime play, noise and all the things that come with it,” Povlin said. “They want no ballfield lights.”

“We had (FNPP’s proposed language) very specific,” Brykalski said.

“That’s where maybe Town attorney Mr. Hale can elaborate on,” Commissioner Noah Myers said. “There may be some things that I’m not thinking about that we may be in violation of the TCA, or there’s case law out there that would render this useless.”

Myers also introduced a fly in the ointment with the staff’s and Brykalski’s proposed amendments when he pointed out the language would prohibit businesses, such as Topgolf and miniature golf businesses, from having pole lights, even when they are in the Entertainment district.

“I envision we would be on a slippery slope,” Myers said. “Either drafts would have prohibited Topgolf from having lights because of the way they are worded … I’m not ready to vote on this tonight.”

Other voices heard

Hale voiced his concerns as well.

“I’m understanding what the desire is, (but) my sense of it is if we have ballfields, we’re treating them differently than every other use,” the Town attorney said. “Even though they comply, and we’re not looking at whether there’s a rational basis for treating them differently. We could get into some difficulty.

“You cannot treat similar uses differently without a rational basis for them,” Hale added. “What we’re doing here is we’re taking one particular use and we’re treating it differently without consideration of whether or not there is a reason to do so.

Continuing, “My general approach to that kind of thing is I would rather let the regulations apply the same to every use that it’s required to apply to. In my mind it’s easier to defend if all uses treated the same unless there’s rational basis to treat them differently,” Hale said.

The proposed amendment states: “… the following requirements shall apply to all developments and/or facilities, excluding single-family and two-family dwellings, street lighting (unless governed by Subdivision Regulations) and lighting associated with public outdoor recreational field and court lighting as defined in this ordinance.

“These are the only locations where field and court lighting are permitted that would not otherwise comply with the pole_mounted light provisions of this section.”

It was prompted by a request from FNPP, which wanted to restrict ballfield lights.

“This item has been discussed as a workshop for the past two Planning Commission meetings,” Community Development director Mark Shipley said.

“Basically, the ordinance before you would exempt ballfield lighting … associated with Mayor Bob Leonard Park, McFee Park and Knox County Schools,” he added. “That’s where they already exist, so we’re really just codifying current conditions.

“I think it’s my understanding that the applicant would like to prohibit any kind of ballfield lighting.”