Support for a proposed rugby complex at Stephen J. Bander Park – formerly Sunset Hills Golf Links – has been seemingly enthusiastic and universal since the city of Sunset Hills agreed to lease 15 acres of the donated site to the St. Louis Bombers.
But as the national rugby club moves closer to obtaining the permits it needs to make the rugby park a reality, the issue of outdoor lighting could derail or alter the Bombers’ plans.
The Sunset Hills Planning and Zoning Commission at its June meeting unanimously agreed to recommend an amended development plan for the first stage of the rugby complex, but included a caveat that before any lights may be erected on any of the three fields the Bombers must return to the commission for review of the lighting scheme.
The recommendation also stipulates that the Bombers facilitate conversion of the existing golf cart paths to walking trails, obtain a lighting study for the parking lot, replace disturbed vegetation and obtain all flood permits required by the state and federal government.
Assistant Planner Lynn Sprick said the petition essentially would allow the Bombers to construct two rugby fields and a lighted parking lot. A third, competition-level field as well as restrooms, concession stands and other amenities would be included in a future petition.
The issue of lighting for the fields was first broached by commission member Todd Powers.
“Field lighting is not easily controlled. The glow can be spotted for some distance,” Powers said. “If they experience any problem with this property, lighting is likely to be it.”
Bill Ericson, a Kimker Lane resident whose property is adjacent to the proposed rugby park, said he can’t see how a rugby park would benefit the community and urged the commission to issue a negative recommendation.
“I am thinking of the added noise to an area that used to be relatively peaceful. I can only image what rugby tournaments will do to our peaceful environment,” Kimker said. “At the very least, this should only be allowed to move forward without outdoor lighting.”
Commission member Michael Hopfinger said he has played rugby, “and out of 10 times, only once was the field lighted. That is not the culture of rugby.”
Commission member Mike Svoboda said he was taken aback by the 11th hour opposition to the rugby park.
“I thought we were already well past the point where we’d be weighing objections,” he said. “The city has already signed a lease with the Bombers for this.”
The board of aldermen will give the proposal a first reading in July.