The Cottage at park was standing room only Tuesday night even though a storm and power outage almost cancelled the Alamo MAC meeting.
The lights came back on, and after more than two hours of discussion, the split its votes for a proposal to light the lower tennis courts at . The hotly debated proposal will now go to a Contra Costa County zoning administrator for a hearing in the next couple of months.
The proposal would add several 24-foot light fixtures to the country club’s lower tennis courts at the intersection of Round Hill and Stone Valley roads.
Alamo MAC Chairman David Bowlby made a motion, on a 3-3 vote, on the proposal with a number of caveats. Many of those suggestions were based on concerns voiced by the public at the meeting.
Residents living on nearby Britain Court and Valley Oaks Drive organized a petition and group against the proposal. They say lights will infringe on their home life.
Supporters, including club members and tennis players, say the lights will bolster a popular sport at Round Hill and build a sense of community.
The club's general manager, Greg Gonsalves, presented the club’s proposal.
With 1,500 membership families at the club, Gonsalves said, the demand for tennis cannot be met. Adding lights to the lower courts would allow the courts to stay open longer and therefore, serve more people.
Since the proposal was submitted in November, club staff has added modifications to the plan to mitigate the lights’ impact on homeowners, said Gonsalves.
Those modifications were introduced to residents Tuesday.
They include adding screening and shielding material to light fixtures and having a 10 p.m. closing time. The original proposal was to stay open until 11 p.m.
During Gonsalves’ presentation, a Round Hill member certified in lighting design offered a computerized rendering of the plan that showed minimal glow impact to homes near the lights.
Bowlby suggested the club enlist a third party to produce another rendering to address residents' concerns.
Kathryn and Paul Schafer, who live on the 2200 block of Stone Valley Road near the tennis courts, said the earlier closing time is not enough.
Kathryn Schafer said she hears “grunts, groans and constant back-and-forth” of tennis players during the day.
“We’ll hear things like ‘hit that!’ ” she said during the meeting. “It’s not just the balls we hear, but the players.”
Paul Schafer organized a campaign called "Stop the Lights in Alamo" and collected 109 signatures in opposition of the proposal.
He spoke during the meeting about what he called a “quality-of-life issue.”
The homes nearest the courts are less than 50 feet away, so noise and light pollution are inevitable regardless of the changes proposed by the country club, he said.
Kirk and Mary Bennett, who live on the 100 block of Valley Oaks Drive, also voiced their opposition.
“We’re going to hear it, we’re going to feel it,” Kirk Bennett said. “It’ll be especially noticeable after dark.”
Many supporters, however, said after dark is the only time they can play tennis.
Dawn Smallwood, a club member since 2010 who plays on the women’s tennis program, called the proposal a “win-win.”
“As a working mother, it’s important that I can get playing time that fits me and that’s why the lights are really needed,” she said. “I know there are a lot of other mothers like me who need that time, too.”
Bill Ferrara, captain of several of the club's teams, is familiar with the challenge of reserving court time.
“The peak time is 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.,” he said. “People calling in two days earlier are still fighting for spots.”
Junior players usually take up courts from 4 to 7 p.m., he said, with many coming from and . Ferrara said the teen players also would benefit from more court availability.
The Alamo Improvement Association did not recommend the proposal, citing the impact on nearby homes.
“The geography of this application is important,” said Mike Gibson, association transportation committee chairman. “The lower courts are on the edge of the Round Hill property. A lot of people benefit and a few are impacted, so balancing that is key.”
Bowlby asked club staff to continue the dialogue with the project's opponents to find common ground. Other council members agreed.
They also suggested a peer review of a lighting study commissioned by the club as well as prohibiting food and beverages on the lower courts.
“There are still some very important questions that can be solved if the people most deeply involved with this issue can come together and make compromises on both ends,” said Councilman Ed Best.
The council’s dissenting votes came from Best, David Barclay and Steve Mick, with support from Bowlby, Nancy Dommes and Janet Miller Evans. Vice Chair Michael McDonald abstained from voting because he is a Round Hill Country Club member.
The council’s concerns and suggestions will be given to a county zoning administrator to consider during a county hearing on the issue, said field representative Jennifer Quallick. A date has not been set for the hearing but it is usually one to two months after submission of council recommendations, she said.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story suggested the Alamo MAC approved the project. MAC members were divided over the decision to approve the project and the project now goes to the county for review.