MANATEE -- After a year of negotiation between the Braden River Soccer Club and Manatee County government over field lights at Lakewood Ranch, an agreement resolving the issue is headed to the county commission.
Under the proposed agreement, the soccer club would contribute $45,000 to lighting one field, with the county picking up the rest of the tab. The total cost for lighting one field is estimated at about $300,000.
Lights became an issue a year ago when the club rented diesel-powered portable lights to illuminate the fields during the shorter days of fall and winter.
Almost immediately, residents of neighboring Rosedale complained about the lights, the noise and the smell.
The county stepped in and warned that the portable lights were being used without county approval. The lights would have to be removed, or the club could face fines or penalties.
Only one of the soccer fields near Lakewood Ranch High School would be lighted initially, said County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh.
LED lights would be installed at field level to minimize glare in Rosedale, and there would be no diesel generators to cause a noise disturbance in the neighborhood, Baugh said.
"It's been a long process. It's been extremely involved trying to get this agreement together," Baugh said. "We want the best quality of life for the children who play soccer and for the residents of Rosedale."
Soccer club general manager Brendan Moriarty said he is pleased with the proposed agreement.
The club is asking parents to attend the county commission meeting 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Manatee County Administrative Center, 1115 Manatee Ave. W., when commissioners are set to discuss and vote on the agreement.
"We are hoping to be able to celebrate en masse if the county commission approves the agreement," Moriarty said.
During the fall season, the club has about 1,300 youth who play soccer at Lakewood Ranch.
"There is so much need in Manatee County, and so few dollars," Moriarty said. "The commission is trying to do the best they can with the dollars they have."
The county will work closely with the lighting engineer to ensure that any bleedover to Rosedale neighbors is minimal, chief assistant county attorney Rob Eschenfelder said.
"We are concerned about the feelings of the neighbors next door," Eschenfelder said.
Total cost for eventually lighting all of the unlit Lakewood Ranch soccer fields is expected to exceed $1 million.
The county administration decided that the lights would be a long-term asset and that it needed to be designed to a higher standard, Eschenfelder said, citing the cost of LED lighting, engineering, underground high power cables, and the need to make the system super safe.
Charlie Hunsicker, director of Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources, welcomed the partnership with the Braden River Soccer Club, and its contribution of $45,000 to the lighting project.
"We are always looking to partner with a league to extend the reach of improvements and make the fields more playable," Hunsicker said.
The partnership is a new beginning for the Braden River Soccer Club and the county to work together for the kids, Baugh said. "That's what it is all about and it's been no small feat," she said.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter@jajones1.