The lights at the Ruth Park Driving Range will not be turned back on, said City Manager Lehman Walker.
The lights have been off for several months. Residents near the University City driving range complained that they were too bright. Walker told University City Patch that he "determined it was in the best interest of the residents who live across the street to not turn the lights back on." Before the policy change, the range lights would stay on until 9:30pm, weather permitting.
A committee of driving range neighbors and golf enthusiast had been formed at Walker's insistence to look at complaints about the range, including issues with lighting, safety and noise.
The golf committee met last Wednesday to vote on recommendations to send to Walker. A permanent shutdown of the lights was not among the suggestions sent to him.
When committee member William Field suggested eliminating the lighting at the range altogether, Ewald Winker, the Interim Director of the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department shot it down, saying he didn't see it as an option.
"I was charged with getting compromise. To me eliminating the lights altogether is not a compromise," Winker said.
When U City Patch asked Walker why he implemented an action that was not one of the recommendations, he said "it was a decision that I made," and again reiterated that he believed it was "in the best interest" of the neighbors. He noted that the majority of people using the driving range are not U City residents. Walker said that 77% of the users of the driving range pay non-resident rates.
The City's official website which until yesterday touted the range as featuring excellent lighting for evening use, now reads "We offer 25 tee spots for use during daylight hours daily."
In an email to University City Patch, Mayor Shelley Welsch wrote:
Mr. Walker always has to consider how his decisions impact our residents. In deciding to leave the lights at the driving range turned off, Mr. Walker has decided that the negative impact of the lights on the University City homeowners along Groby Road outweigh the benefits of keeping the lights on.
The Interim Parks Director has considered both the revenue AND the expenses of keeping the lights on and determined that the true revenue from the lights is actually about $11,000 annually, and that 77% of the people using the range under the lights are not U City residents.
Walker’s decision is not “appeasing” a few people. It’s acknowledging valid concerns of some of our residents, balancing all the costs of his decision, financial and otherwise, while implementing all but one of the recommendations of a citizen’s group that recently looked at driving range issues.
In a September 13, 2010 letter, then Director of Parks, Recreation and Forestry Nancy MacCartney urged Walker not to eliminate the range lights entirely. She wrote, "there is no light spilling off the range and the increase seen from sidewalk to sidewalk is from a street light on the south side of the street."
MacCartney also listed the following reasons for keeping the range lights on:
1. 7066 transactions took place under the lights. These 7066 customers would be inconvenienced without the lights. This represents 19% of our customers at the range.
2. $27,743.25 was collected for transactions under the lights. This represents 20% of the range revenues. This loss of revenue would reverse the success of having the golf course self sustaining.
3. The driving range was funded primarily by a Municipal Park Grant and the grant covered half the cost of the lights. If the lights were no longer used the Grant Commission could, by the agreement signed by the City, require reimbursement of $39,780.
4. The lights we specified have shields to prevent back spill lighting. We contracted with a lighting engineer to measure the light levels at various locations with the range lights off and on a moonless night September 8th. The engineer noticed that the shields were not properly installed and that the end lights were creating a glare. The next morning I had my staff, using a bucket truck, move the shields into the correct positions and we measured the light levels at various locations that evening.
5. The course had 25,094 rounds in the fiscal year prior to the range opening. For this past fiscal year we had 30,393 rounds played. All the new customers who use the range after work and will now have to go elsewhere to hit balls and if they go somewhere else to practice then they will most likely play at that course.
6. There are new golfers who we have created through instructional programs, such as the “Get Golf Ready in 5 days”, and we have to offer these classes usually from 6pm or later. Without the lights we can’t do this. Approximately 20% of all lessons are provided under the lights. If those golfers go elsewhere we once more lose potential golfers who play the course.
7. Young people we employ now because of this range, we have created jobs for these youth. Some of these youth have a tough time finding jobs after school.
8. The $27,000 revenue taken in from the range, by keeping the lights on, goes towards improving the needs of the course such as cart paths etc.
U City Patch also asked Walker whether his decision would have any impact on the $30,000 the City of Clayton gave to U City to help fund the driving range. Walker responded that his decision about the lights had nothing to do with Clayton residents using the range. He said the money from Clayton was so its residents could play at Ruth Park for U City resident rates.
The driving range opened in 2008 and operates year round.
Below are other recommendations Walker will implement regarding the range:
- Install netting along fairway number 7 to improve safety.
- Approach Traffic Commission to install no U-turn signs on Groby across from range.
- Petition Traffic Commission to lower the speed limit on Groby to 25 from 30.
- Install larger more legible No Parking signs along Groby.
- Add more trash receptacles to address litter problems.
- Contract with Golf Landscape Architect to develop a plan to screen the range, buffer street noise and resolve drainage problem.