Court Orders SPFHS to Keep Field Lights Off

For The Leader/Times

SCOTCH PLAINS – Neighbors of Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School were successful in obtaining an order prohibiting the board of education (BOE) from using the newly-installed lights at Perry Tyson Field. Union County Superior Court Assignment Judge Karen Cassidy ruled following a two-hour court hearing that took place via Zoom last Friday, saying in her order that the prohibition would be in place until the case is resolved. Judge Cassidy acknowledged the complexity of the case, and said that she was not yet ready to rule on the suit’s merits.

The lawsuit, brought by James Halpin, Kevin McSherry and John Lucey, was filed on June 26 and initially sought to keep the BOE from constructing the lights. Judge Cassidy previously denied an application to halt construction. The plaintiffs, through their attorney, Rob Simon, are claiming that the board should have put the plan through the township zoning board and not an approval from the township planning board due to the school having a conditional-use variance in a residential zone.

Mr. Simon told the judge that the motion would “protect and preserve the status quo” in preventing the use of the newly-installed lights. He raised his clients’ concerns that with the lights installed, the school could use them “in an unfettered manner” for both the school and potentially any group the school may rent the field to. He said that the planning board process did not require site-plan approval and lacked public comment.

Doug Silvestro, the attorney for the BOE, said that the school had been using temporary lights powered by noisy generators prior to installation of the new lights. He said that the board’s application was sent to the planning board, which did provide comments on the plan.

Planning Board Attorney Robert Pansulla said that the matter was discussed at a public meeting of the planning board and that the public was involved in the process, but that it “may have been more streamlined than the public hoped.”

At the time of the hearing on Friday, an in-person school year was planned that would be changed to virtual later that evening by the BOE. Judge Cassidy said that she really did not have enough information about whether or not the sports teams would, in fact, have a season. She asked that the parties agree to the use of the fields for events that had occurred at night in the past, such as a band competition, which the attorneys agreed to. She also recommended that the parties enter mediation to resolve the issue.

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