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City Council upholds denial of field lights for Edgewood High School
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City Council upholds denial of field lights for Edgewood High School

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Edgewood field

Striking another blow to Edgewood High School's efforts to make upgrades at its athletic field, the Madison City Council denied early Wednesday morning a bid by the school to install lights.

The council voted 13-4 against an appeal the private Catholic high school filed last year seeking to overturn a denied permit to install four field lights — the latest chapter in a years-long saga that has pitted the school's desire to improve the Goodman Athletic Field against neighborhood concerns about noise and light pollution.

For more than three hours, a parade of opponents and supporters of Edgewood pled their case to the City Council, with both sides presenting their arguments via slideshows and claiming the other was relying on "misinformation."

To supporters of the Near West Side school, getting lights at the athletic field is viewed as a matter of fairness and would allow students to compete in night football and soccer games on their own campus instead of traveling around the county to play on rented fields.

"Like the other high schools with lights, we meet all the requirements and ordinance set forth by the City to add lights to our field," Edgewood President Mike Elliott said in a statement after the vote, which happened just before 1:30 a.m. "For some reason, the (City) Council decided to treat Edgewood differently from other athletic facilities."

But to many residents of the surrounding neighborhood, installing the four poles with LED light fixtures is seen as a significant intrusion in the traditionally residential neighborhood, with the sound of pep bands and cheering fans disrupting dinners, waking up young children and impacting the overall quality of life.

"Edgewood feels entitled to get what they want, when they want it, and they want lights," said Patricia Friday, who has lived across the field for more than 40 years.

In May, the Plan Commission denied Edgewood a conditional use permit to install the light poles.

City staff had said at the time the permit could be granted if the high school agreed to certain conditions, which Edgewood leaders said they were open to, but the commission ruled approving the lights would "have a substantial negative impact on the uses, values and enjoyment of surrounding properties."

The high school promptly appealed the decision, which would have required support of two-thirds of the council to overturn. But a vote on the appeal kept being pushed back as Edgewood and neighbors met to try to hash out a compromise.

Edgewood offered a set number of night games — 15 in the 2020-21 school year; 30 in 2021-22; and 40 in 2022-23 and every year moving forward — along with other conditions. The Dudgeon-Monroe Neighborhood Association wanted the school to measure the noise impact of existing daytime uses and figure out a noise mitigation approach before moving ahead with lights for night games.

During the public comment period, Elliott, the high school's president, argued the school has been responsive to many neighborhood concerns, paying for studies on traffic, parking, environmental, noise and light impacts.

"Our opponents have yet to present a compromise that included any number of night uses," he said. "A compromise cannot happen if only one side is willing to negotiate."

Rachel Fields, president of the neighborhood association, countered it was the high school that was acting as a bad-faith negotiator.

"Their version of a compromise is Edgewood getting exactly what they've been asking for the whole time," she said. "It should be clear to the Common Council that Edgewood has no interest in compromising and that instead of doing so, they plan to push their way into getting what they want, even if that means suing the city."

Ongoing effort

The appeal is the school's latest effort to make improvements to the athletic field.

Following a $1.5 million investment to the field and track in 2015, Edgewood revealed two years later another $1.5 million in proposed upgrades it was seeking, such as lights, a sound system, locker rooms, restrooms, concessions and other amenities. 

But the plan faced opposition from many in the area who said it would disrupt the quiet nature of the neighborhood.

Following a legal dispute with the city on whether Edgewood could even hold daytime competitions under a city-approved master plan for the campus, the high school asked to have the master plan repealed, which would have allowed them to install lights through an administrative request to the city.

But before the council OKed repealing Edgewood's master plan, the body put in place a new ordinance that requires Edgewood and other schools to get Plan Commission approval to make major changes to outdoor spaces, such as installing lights.

Eviction prevention

Earlier in the meeting, which started Tuesday evening, the council approved a plan to distribute millions of federal dollars targeted for eviction prevention, but one that was criticized by several minority-led organizations as inequitable.

The city expects to receive $7.5 million from the most recent federal COVID-19 relief bill to provide rental assistance to residents at risk of being evicted. Jim O'Keefe, community development director, said the city selected the Tenant Resource Center to distribute the vast majority of the money.

But leaders of organizations that serve communities of color said they felt snubbed by the selection, arguing they have the capacity and experience to do the work and the city wasn't living up to a commitment to equity. Others said it was an example of the City Council overlooking Black- and Latino-led nonprofits.

"We need to start doing things differently when it comes to including organizations led by people of color," said Sandy Morales, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County.

O'Keefe said the city only learned late last year it would get federal money for eviction prevention and had "precious little time" to determine how to allocate it.

He said city staff opted to follow the lead of Dane County, which got $10 million last spring for eviction prevention and partnered with the Tenant Resource Center to distribute it. O'Keefe acknowledged it isn't an ideal solution to give one organization, the Tenant Resource Center, 90% of the funds, but said it was the result of limited time to plan and little flexibility in how the money can be spent.

Originally, the city proposed allocating the remaining 10% of the estimated $7.5 million through an application process for organizations to provide "housing stability" services.

Instead, the council approved a plan from Ald. Shiva Bidar, 5th District, to direct more than $1 million in federal and city tax dollars to 11 specific organizations to promote housing stability.

The money will be distributed to:

  • The African Center for Community Development, $80,000
  • FOSTER of Dane County, Meadowood Health Partnership, Mount Zion Baptist Church, Nehemiah Community Development Corp. and Urban Triage, which will share $470,000
  • Freedom Inc., $80,000
  • Centro Hispano of Dane County, Latino Academy for Workforce Development, Latino Chamber of Commerce and UNIDOS, which will share $470,000.
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