Commission to hear argument for lighting on private tennis courts in city

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By Kathryn Schiliro

Managing Editor

On behalf of Madison property owners Von and Christy Freisen, attorney Ben Whidham has requested a change in the city’s zoning ordinance that will allow for the Freisen’s private tennis court, and future private tennis courts in the city, to include lighting.

The Freisens have already constructed their tennis court “with illumination,” according to the Madison Staff Report, reviewed by the Morgan County Planning Commission at their work session last Friday, June 21. Windham submitted this application for the change on the Freisens’ behalf after the city’s Municipal Court sent a Consent Order, “issued after the tennis court and its lighting were completed without a building permit after receiving a stop work order,” the report states.

However, this matter, to be taken up by the commission, is not “whether they violated procedure…but about the text amendment,” City Planner Bryce Jaeck, who presented the report to the commission, said.

City zoning language currently dictates that tennis courts in residential districts can’t be illuminated. Windham is proposing an amendment to the zoning ordinance so that tennis courts can be illuminated, provided the property on which the tennis court sits is more than 2.5 acres and any lighting pole or other lighting device is 50 or more feet from any neighboring lot.

This change would apply to all residentially zoned properties in Madison, a total of 91 at present, according to the staff report.

Light pollution is a concern, according to the report, which states that the pollution “could potentially affect nearby properties…if proper precautions are not made.”

Windham’s letter to the city’s Planning Department states that the Freisens’ lot is 3.176 acres, and “the spill rate for lighting is very low.”

The letter goes on to note that the city’s “blanket provision that disallows tennis court lighting…is patently unfair when applied to property owners who own residences with more than sufficient acreage and dimensions to have lighting without affecting neighbors or causing a nuisance thereby.”

Approval of the lights themselves would have to go through the city’s Corridor Design Commission, according to Jaeck, who presented the information to the commission. City Planning Director Monica Callahan was present at the meeting, and stated that light pole height and color may be restricted to no more than 20 feet and black, respectively, and the lights would have to point down at the ground so as to “protect Rutledge’s night sky observatory,” she said.

At present there are two private, residential tennis courts in the city.

This isn’t the first time the issue of lighted tennis courts in Madison has been addressed. In fact, one residence in the city does have a tennis court with illumination: 411 Old Post Road. This lighted tennis court was installed in 1995 and modified in 1996 and 1997, the report states, and it generated “several legal actions,” not to mention community concerns.

In fact, the 1998 City of Madison Zoning Ordinance, as a response to the tennis court at 411 Old Post Road, prohibited tennis courts as an accessory use. The city’s 2000 zoning ordinance adopted the language on the books today, which includes the restrictions on lighting.

The commission will take up the matter at their meeting this Thursday at 7 p.m. at the county administration building, and the matter will then go before the Madison City Council.

AT ISSUE

City currently doesn’t allow lighted tennis courts Christy and Von Freisens’ attorney argues lighting should be allowed if (1) the property is 2.5-plus acres and (2) lighting is 50 or more feet from neighboring lots Freisens have already constructed tennis court with lights, but received stop work order

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