The debate over Ursuline's soccer field jumped the shark a dozen years ago when an outcry from the school's Preston Hollow neighbors convinced the City Council to reject the school's request to install lights. The defeat sent Ursuline back to the drawing board. Last May, it unveiled a new, more modest lighting plan, the unobtrusiveness of which was backed up by detailed photometric and lighting studies, and set about wooing neighbors.
It worked. Today, City Council approved Ursuline's soccer field lights to the cheers of supporters and members of Ursuline's state champion soccer team. But that only came at the conclusion of testimony that frequently bordered on the absurd.
It started with the soccer field's opponents. One neighbor, Bill Meyer, said he's concerned about safety. You might think that lighting a soccer field more safe, not less, but au contraire. The glare from the lights would be so excessive as to impair drivers and cause pileups along Inwood and Walnut Hill. He also suggested that some light-blinded driver might veer off course and cover the 20 feet between the road and Ursuline's soccer field, with potentially disastrous consequences. "I wouldn't want my daughter playing [on that field]," he said.
Meyer was followed by an illumination engineer hired by a group of residents who've dubbed themselves the Neighborhood Preservation Coalition. He seconded Meyer's contention that the lights would be a safety issue, rattling off various figures before pulling out a device to demonstrate to council members just how uncomfortable a bright light can be. Mayor Rawlings cut him off with a terse, "Let's not go there."
Another neighbor turned her attention to sound. That corner of Preston Hollow is crisscrossed by creeks that will amplify the sound coming from the field and abridging "our very basic legal right to quiet enjoyment of our property every day."
Another woman suggested the concerns of property owners should trump those of a bunch of high school kids. "The girls will come and go in four years," she said. "My family will, God willing, be in our house for 40 years."
After all, the soon-to-be-completed Elm Fork Soccer Complex isn't a long drive, nor are the lighted fields of Jesuit, Ursuline's brother school. Also, Meyer suggested, Ursuline could always buy some land and build a soccer field somewhere else.
Opponents certainly served up the most nonsense at today's meeting, but Ursuline supporters didn't come empty-handed. Bill Dahlstrom, an Ursuline board member and its zoning representative in the case, trotted out a five-minute fake newscast that featured an authoritative-sounding reporter making not-very-reportorial observations like, "From Ursuline's campus you can't see a single house, so it stands to reason that residents could not soccer field."
One woman interviewed in the video scoffs at her neighbors' complaints, noting the size of the hedges surrounding Ursuline's property. "The girls are gonna have to be eight feet tall to be hollerin' over that fence."
Following the video, still more neighbors accused the field's opponents of lies and bullying and compared Ursuline to Wrigley Field.
The whole thing was, in the words of Dwaine Caraway, "a hot ball of wax." But Ursuline's myriad concessions to neighbors was enough to sway Ann Margolin, who led the council in approving the soccer field lights and cooling the ball of wax once and for all.