The Cavaliers of Augusta Preparatory Day School will get to play football under lights this fall, if a Tuesday vote by the Columbia County Commission withstands a challenge.
Commissioners voted 3-2 to allow lights at Augusta Prep's athletic field, against the wishes of many vocal residents of the neighboring Springlakes subdivision.
But that decision could be affected by the outcome of a Monday hearing before the county zoning board in which some Springlakes residents intend to challenge the commission's right to take up the issue.
Commissioners voted 3-1 in May to deny the zoning change that would allow the private school on Flowing Wells Road to erect four light posts at the field and expand stadium seating.
The commission sided with Springlakes residents, who complained the night football games would generate too much light and noise pollution.
Since then, the Springlakes homeowners' association and Augusta Prep officials worked out a deal to proceed with the zoning revision so long as seating is limited to 490 and night events are limited to 10 each school year. The agreement also prevents Augusta Prep from seeking further changes to its field for at least three years.
Other stipulations of the zoning revision included no team practices using lights; landscape buffers must be maintained; and lights must be out by 10:30 p.m. except for instances of overtime or injury delays.
"Nobody gets everything they want," Commissioner Ron Thigpen said of the compromise.
Still, many Springlakes residents opposed the compromises made by the homeowners' association.
"This is just a public relations campaign," Springlakes resident Dean Thompson told commissioners. "Please don't be misled by the so-called compromise."
Though the commission voted in favor of Augusta Prep this time, Springlakes homeowners have another card to play.
Thompson, a former chairman of the planning commission, filed an appeal of the zoning board's decision to hear the issue at a recent meeting in which the board recommended approval to commissioners.
Thompson argues that county ordinances stipulate that the planning commission can't consider zoning changes until at least six months after a denial.
That six-month wait requirement doesn't apply to plan revisions or special districts, county attorney Doug Batchelor said before Tuesday's meeting. Augusta Prep is in a special district.
The planning commission will hear the appeal at 6 p.m. Monday in the auditorium of the Columbia County Government Center on Ronald Reagan Drive in Evans.
Thigpen said he hoped Tuesday's vote ended the "plain old ugliness" generated by the controversy and that both sides can move forward with a more cooperative spirit.
Along with Commissioners Charles Allen and Bill Morris, Thigpen approved the rezoning. Commission Chairman Ron Cross and Commissioner Trey Allen, a Springlakes resident, voted against it.
Though on the losing side of the vote, Allen said he is encouraged by language in the agreement that requires the Springlakes Neighborhood Association officers and Augusta Prep officials to meet every six months to discuss their issues.
"That simple dialogue is the true victory here," Allen said, adding that such regular meetings might have stopped this conflict before it started.