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Planners OK football field lighting for St. Stephen’s

BRADENTON — The football players at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal School will be happy to know they might soon have a lighted field.

The same cannot be said for many of the residents in the surrounding neighborhood.

The city planning commission approved in a 4-1 vote, with one abstention, to allow the school to change its master plan by rearranging the ball fields and installing stadium lighting over the football field.

The decision now goes to the Bradenton City Council for approval in March.

Twelve people who live on streets that border or are near the 35-acre campus, tried to make the point that the lighting, the noise from the public address system and crowds and the extra traffic will adversely affect their property values.

“Their talk sounds good about what they are going to do to mitigate the impact to the neighbors,” said Lars Hafner, the SCF president who lives directly across First Avenue West from the proposed fields.

Hafner said there were promises of no lights when the original site plan was approved, but “from the beginning, it looks like Saint Stephen’s is going to steam roll the neighbors.”

He said school officials have told him that they know property values will take a financial hit.

Cindy Gerstenberger asked the planning commission members if any of them would want to purchase her home, and Andrea Tolomei said he bought his home across the street from the school two years ago, but he would not today.

Tolomei also said school officials held a meeting with the neighborhood Feb. 2, after the site plan changes were submitted.

So it was never the school’s intention to take into consideration any of the neighbor’s concerns, he said.

For Judi Stephens, the problem with the site plan changes is the proposed gymnasium that will be built directly across from her home.

What was once a small wooden building with large oak trees, will now be a large building, she said.

Robert Darcey said he built his home on 39th Street Court Northwest in 1957, and where the fields will be located was once all woods.

Several people spoke in favor of the changes, saying they send their children to Saint Stephen’s because it prepares them to be leaders in the community.

Both Susan Carrington and Ron Stephens said they do not live near the school, but sports was important for their children.

Janet Pullen, the Head of School for Saint Stephen’s, said the school is vibrant and growing with 676 students, and 80 percent of the seventh-12th graders play sports.

Also, physical education is part of the kindergarten-sixth grade program, Pullen said.

“In 2000, we did say there would be no lights,” she said. “We didn’t know if the football program would be a success or not.”

But the school has continued to change, Pullen said, and the football program has been very successful.

It is extremely important to have night games so working families can participate, she said.

Although the commissioners asked questions of the engineers and consultants for the school, only Commissioner Richard Whetstone voted against the request for a comprehensive plan change.

Whetstone asked if the school could share another school’s football field, but Pullen said they wanted to keep the field on the campus and avoid having to transport students.

Commissioner Jason Taylor recused himself from participating in the discussion and voting because he works for the Fawley-Bryant architect firm, which prepared the site plans.

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