Braden River Soccer Club removes portable lights, will seek county permit

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- There may be a way forward in a contentious tug of war over the need for more soccer-field lighting at a Lakewood Ranch county park.

On one side: Braden River Soccer Club officials and parents.

On the other: Rosedale neighbors.

In the middle: Manatee County government.

For several years, the soccer club has been lobbying the county for more lighting on the western-most fields near Lakewood Ranch High School.

The issue came to a head in September when the club leased portable lights.

"At significant cost to the club, we leased portable lights to enable more than 120 players per night to continue practicing on those fields. Despite advising the county of our decision more than two months ago, the county has now taken the position that the lights are not allowed and that we will not be allowed to use the fields beyond dusk," club manager Brendan Moriarty wrote to parents.

Rosedale residents started complaining to the county when the soccer club fired up diesel generators to power the portable lights, assistant county attorney Robert Eschenfelder said this week.

Residents complained about the noise and the smell of the generators, as well as the new lighting.

Among those who wrote to the county in support of the lighting was Carla Christiano.

Christiano, and several other parents, noted that nearby Lakewood Ranch High School already hosts football games under bright lights, complete with crowd noise and marching band performances.

"They should have thought about it before they bought their homes," Christiano said of the Rosedale residents who complained about soccer lighting.

"It's kids who are playing. We are keeping our kids off the streets. It's ridiculous; it's horrible to keep the kids from playing," she said.

On Sept. 25, the county advised the soccer club that the portable lights delivered to the soccer fields without county approval and should be removed to avoid fines or penalties from code enforcement.

The league powered up the portable lights for the first time Oct. 9, resulting in the county fielding complaints from Rosedale residents for the next week, according to a timeline provided by Eschenfelder.

County staff met with league officials at Lakewood Ranch Park Oct. 13, requesting that the lights be turned off. The county also posted signs closing the park at dusk. The next day, the county changed the wording of park-closing time to 6:45 p.m.

Also on Oct, 14, the club learned from its insurance provider that it would not be covered for activities on the field after park closing time.

Two days later, All-Star Equipment began removing the portable lights.

Subsequently, Fred Moore, a soccer dad and attorney who has volunteered his services, met with Eschenfelder to discuss a way forward.

In an email to Eschenfelder on Oct. 22, Moore wrote that while he was disappointed that the two sides were unable to make headway on a temporary solution to the fields this fall, he looks forward to working with the county Building and Development Services Department on a long-term solution to the lighting issue.

The way forward is for the club to retain a lighting engineer and make an application for permanent, rather than temporary, lights at Lakewood Ranch Park, Eschenfelder told the Herald this week.

"The league will apply to the county for a permit," Eschenfelder said.

It's ironic that the requirement for a permit and objections to the temporary lights arose only this year, Moriarty said.

"We used the identical portable lights two seasons ago and there were no objections from the county or Rosedale," Moriarty said.

But the soccer club is ready to "jump through the hoops" presented by the county to get the lights it needs, Moriarty said, adding that he has already met with a lighting specialist.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter@jajones1.