Neighbors support stadium upgrades at Fairfield U.

Fairfield University's plan to convert Alumni Field into a stadium had neighbors cheering at a public hearing of the Town Plan and Zoning Commission Tuesday night.

"Basically, we're in favor of this application and hope the commission views it favorably as well," said Charles Rhudy, president of the College Park Association, a neighborhood group. "We feel the university has done a good job of dialoguing with us."

Paul Meyer of College Park Drive was likewise pleased that Fairfield U. reached out to neighbors before bringing its development application before Fairfield's land-use boards.

"We appreciate so much the work of the university in dialoguing with us," he said.

Rhudy and Meyer wanted to ensure that conditions of approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals' July approval of 75-foot-high lights at Alumni Field would be incorporated into a potential approval by the Town Plan and Zoning Commission.

Donald Pogoda, of Deer Run Road, questioned whether sports teams that now use Alumni Field would change.

John Fallon, the lawyer representing the university, assured Rhudy and Meyer that the conditions of approval, which govern when the 75-foot-high lights can be turned on and the level of sound that can be generated at Alumni Field, were the same as the conditions approved by the ZBA. And Fallon said Alumni Field would mostly be used by Fairfield U.'s lacrosse program and Fairfield College Preparatory School's football team. "We're not going to change the use of the venue," he said.

Most of the discussion was about the new lights Fairfield U. wants to install at Alumni Field, which would replace 40-foot-high lights that Fallon said don't function efficiently or properly in regard to energy conservation, containment of light on the field and safety of athletes. Fallon spoke about the lights as overhead lights in McKinley School's cafeteria flickered on and off.

"I hope the lights on the fields work better than these," quipped Bryan LeClerc, chairman of the TPZ. "The lights individually have been flashing on and off all night." He asked Andrew Dyjak, Fairfield U.'s lighting consultant, if he could do anything about the lights at McKinley School, where the meeting took place.

LeClerc asked Fallon and Dyjak whether commission members could view existing 75-foot-high lights that have similar technology to the lights Fairfield U. wants to install, and they said lights at Sacred Heart University's softball field, near the William H. Pitt Health and Recreation Center, would be a good representation. Fallon said the university took neighbors on a field trip to New Rochelle, N.Y. to see lighting that would be used at Alumni Field.

"We started this process a year, year and-a-half ago. We did meet with neighbors on numerous occasions. The goal was to review the proposal with them, get input, and try to respond affirmatively to them," Fallon said. "We made a commitment to be proactive, cooperative and constructive with our neighbors. We're not always perfect, but we endeavor to be."

Dyjak, the Connecticut representative for Musco Sports Lighting, said a visor on each light and an optometric design was relatively new technology that would better contain light on Alumni Field and that the 75-foot height of the light poles increases the "aiming angle" of light fixtures. "We wouldn't be proposing something that put more light out there," he said of the neighborhood near Alumni Field.

Fairfield U.'s renovation also includes re-orienting the 3,500 seats at Alumni Field so 1,500 seats are on the east side and 2,000 are on the west side. Seats now facing an end zone on the field would be eliminated. The university also plans to build a 35-foot-high structure on the west side that will wrap around that area of the field and include a concession stand, coaches rooms, storage rooms and public bathrooms on the ground level and a press box and two VIP suites on the upper level.

Andre Vega, Fairfield U.'s architect, said the playing surface would be shifted 20 feet to the west and 15 feet to the south to provide better access around the field and that a scoreboard would be on the north end.

After Fallon's presentation, about a dozen audience members left McKinley School, and lawyer William Fitzpatrick presented two development applications at Sacred Heart University that also encountered no opposition.

The first application involved renovations at the Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts and a 2,250-square-foot addition onto an adjacent gallery that displays contemporary art, and the second was a revised application for a new academic building on a 4.25-acre parcel that SHU owns at 5401 Park Ave.

The proposed academic building would house the university's School of Business and School of Communication and its two above-grade floors would total 68,572 square feet, instead of 74,420 square feet, which was the case when SHU planned to have the School of Business and School of Education in the building.

Fitzpatrick said the first version of the proposed building encountered no opposition from the public last March and the proposed building was now smaller and would generate less traffic since the SHU's School of Education is in Trumbull, while the two schools now planned in the proposed building are on-campus.

Members of the Town Plan and Zoning Commission asked several questions about both applications and then closed the public hearings.

The TPZ has 65 days to vote on the three development applications.