Wellesley letter to the editor: regarding stadium lights at the track & field

When we first moved to Wellesley, I was thrilled that we were able to afford a home in this beautiful town—a town that we chose, in large part, for its open natural spaces. Over time, I also became impressed by my fellow residents: their intelligence, their commitment to their community, and their consideration of others. And I believe my fellow residents yearn to sustain the best of what makes our community special for the next generation.

So I am mystified why we would want to install 80-foot-tall stadium lights at our local track & field. These lights would be taller, by far, than any trees in the area. They would be an ugly eyesore for all, not just nearby residents.

I don’t understand why we would implement a change of use to our cherished “Central Park,” the Hunnewell Fields, that would substantially change the night quiet of a neighborhood, and inflict excessively bright lighting and abusive amplified sound on our fellow residents, some who are children, and some who live a mere 20 yards from the field. The negative health consequences of amplified sound on humans has been scientifically documented, even if it is not being discussed.

The fact is, we have one of the most successful high school athletic programs in Massachusetts year after year, so lights won’t change that. And community-building can happen just as easily during daylight as it can at night—and our younger residents can be included during daylight, too.

The drive to commercialize the Hunnewell Fields, which are parklands under the jurisdiction of the Natural Resource Commission (NRC), and not the School Committee, is not in compliance with the Natural Resource Open Space Management guidelines, the town’s Unified Plan, or a recently conducted Open Space survey of residents. In fact, repeatedly, our government documents and fellow residents make it clear: preserve and protect what little natural resources we do have.

For example, the “Policy and Criteria for Evaluating Changes to Resources under NRC Jurisdiction” states, “To ensure that all current and future usage of the Town’s parklands and playing fields preserves the character of Wellesley’s neighborhoods and surrounding areas.” The policy goes on to make the point, “Any increase in the intensity of the use of the site shall not substantially affect the character of the site and the surrounding area and neighborhood.”

And the town’s Unified Plan highlights priority themes which call on the town to, “Preserve/enhance open space: trails, parks, conservation land, waterways, community gardens,” and “Preserve green space to protect the environment and natural resources” in a section titled, “The Community Speaks.”

The Unified Plan’s “Natural Resources” section states, “Wellesley residents value the green open space in town and want to preserve it. In principle, they want to preserve natural open space and its environmental value, and would like to see expansion of natural open space.”

And then there is the recently completed 2021 Open Space Survey, where more than 89% of Wellesley residents ranked the need to, “Restore, preserve, and enhance open space for water, air and habitat protection, biodiversity, climate mitigation, enhancement of community character, and enjoyment of the public,” as the most important factor to be considered.

So what do we want for picturesque Wellesley? Do we want the heart of our community to be more like Pottersville than Bedford Falls in the Frank Capra classic, It’s a Wonderful Life? If night use with stadium lights and amplified sound are acceptable on parkland here, why not on NRC parkland in other areas of town—maybe your neighborhood? How about neon billboards and strip malls in the center of our town?

More important, beyond the vision of what we want our town to look like in the future, the proposed change of use begs another, crucial question that speaks to our collective character: how do we treat our fellow man? Do we pocket private funds and then ask our own town officials to look away while we implement a wanted, but not necessary, change that comes at a great personal cost for some of our residents? Especially when other alternatives have not been fully explored? Is this how we demonstrate caring, just mercy for our fellow man, and the natural world? Is this the kind of social equity that Wellesley stands for?

Nancy Stakun
Wellesley resident.