One of the reasons Paul and Kathi Schafer purchased their Alamo home next to Round Hill Country Club 22 years ago was the serenity of the neighborhood.
Vehicular traffic is relatively light. Nights are peacefully quiet. Kathi describes the lifestyle on Stone Valley Road, about a mile east of Interstate 680, as "semirural living."
So you can imagine how the Schafers received news 15 months ago that the country club planned to illuminate the six tennis courts 36 feet from their backyard with 48,000 watts of metal halide lights up to seven nights a week.
"It's going to look like the beacon coming out of the Luxor casino," Paul said.
Philips, which manufactures the lights, explains in its "Pocket Guide to High Intensity Discharge Lamp Ballasts" that the advantage of metal halide lighting is its "bright, crisp, white light output suitable for commercial, retail and industrial installations."
No mention of it as mood lighting for semirural living.
Round Hill already has nine lighted courts adjacent to the clubhouse, but General Manager Greg Gonsalves said they are in such demand that members asked that the lower level courts, near the property line, also be illuminated.
The battle has raged ever since. The Schafers say Round Hill officials didn't even warn them -- the Alamo Improvement Association did that. Gonsalves says Round Hill "followed the public process" by submitting a land-use application to the county.
Gonsalves says the club has been a good neighbor, already agreeing to move back lights-out from 11 to 10 p.m. The Schafers say the concession is disingenuous because the club never planned to go beyond 10 p.m.
The Schafers question why the light standards must be 24 feet high and the light "competition grade." Gonsalves said Round Hill members are not recreational tennis players, that they stage highly competitive tournaments.
The Schafers, whose daughters learned to play tennis on the same courts -- "We have no problem with daytime use," Kathi said -- are not alone in this fight. They were joined by 12 neighbors at a hearing before the county zoning administrator, which will be continued Wednesday with more discussions of light trespass and foot candles.
Kirk Bennett, who lives across the street from the courts, said the issue goes beyond lighting terminology.
"This is not about lumens and lights and studies," he said. "The question is how does it affect people. When my wife and I bought our house in 1996, we looked at the tennis courts and there were no lights. That would have been a factor in our decision."
Gonsalves said he is sympathetic. Courts closest to residents will be shielded with screens, and foliage will be planted in tree wells alongside the courts. "We're certainly compassionate about the situation," he said.
Kathi begs to disagree. "I had the manager out to my house and took him upstairs to show him my view out the window. He took a look and basically said, 'Oh, what a shame.' "
Even as the Schafers fear the worst, they seem to understand that not everybody will wring their hands over their plight. Given the wealth and station associated with Alamo, some will see this as a battle of haves vs. haves.
Said Kathi, "I'm sure some people will say, 'That's their problem. The people with money will have to figure that out.' But I don't care where you live: Why would you want 48,000 watts of light shining into your home?"
I would have suggested that she look for a bright side of her situation, but the words didn't seem quite right.
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org.