A Sun Prairie resident who describes himself as “passionate” about providing an outdoor hockey rink for his children on Oct. 13 received an approval recommendation from the Sun Prairie Plan Commission to construct the rink again this winter.
Tim Davis told commission members during its consideration of a conditional use permit (CUP) for the rink that he is passionate about being able to provide an outdoor hockey rink in the backyard of his home at 1180 Carriage Drive for his children and other kids in the neighborhood to use.
The city usually approves Private Residential Recreational Facilities – such as basketball courts, tennis courts, swimming pools, and hockey rinks – through the staff-reviewed Special Use Permit (SUP) process. As a part of that review, city staff ensures that all bulk-requirements for this type of use are met, according to City Planner Philip Gritzmacher Jr.’s report to the commission.
But because the use would only occur during winter months, lighting may be more important for safe operation during evening hours than a use occurring during warmer months, according to Gritzmacher.
During December, for instance, the sun can set as early as 4:30 p.m., meaning safe use of the rink would be challenging, if not impossible, during after school hours – when the applicant has indicated they wish to use the facility. These reasons, as well as the topography of the subject property, warrant consideration of the use via a Conditional Use Permit, Gritzmacher explained in his staff report.
Suzanne Shea, whose Carriage Drive property is located to the west of the Davis home, asked for conditions to the placed on the use that included and earlier curfew (8 p.m.), relocated lighting, higher hockey boards, use of a liner to hold the water for the rink and safety netting. Shea explained their yard is actually below the Davis yard and could receive water if the rink thaws quickly due to spring rains or warm temperatures.
Shea also said their yard received a few pucks last year and has the largest potential for property damage as a result of the rink.
“We certainly do enjoy the neighbor’s kids running around,” said Shea, praising the Davises for wanting to get their kids outside for winter activities. The Sheas have lived in their home for 15 years and just last year experienced problems associated with the hockey rink.
Davis received eight letters of support from his neighbors, and a few of them also attended the public hearing for the rink via Zoom to make their support known.
“We live at 795 Katherine Drive. Last winter we were able to see our neighbor’s rink and lights out of our back windows and patio door. We absolutely enjoyed seeing the kids have some outdoor fun when the weather would cooperate,” wrote Cynthia and Jack Rusch. “The kids were not making excessive noise or out at odd hours. We were never disturbed by our young neighbors playing in their backyard. We have raised two boys in our house and enjoy the sounds of children living and playing in our neighborhood.”
“We all have the desire to be good neighbors and accommodate everyone’s requests as much as possible. We feel those needs and requests have been met with ‘open arms’ and have encouraged dialogue throughout the process. Unfortunately, at this time, we find the situation has come to a standstill and a compromise is not being considered. I feel this situation can easily be remedied with the mitigation items that the Davis family has been more than willing to present and little bit of understanding of ALL of our neighbors, not just to entertain the request of one,” wrote Dan and Carrie Biggin, also Katherine Drive residents.
“What a joy it was to watch and listen to their family enjoying an outdoor winter sport. We were never disturbed by the lights or sounds of their playing. We actually enjoyed having a front row seat. My initial concern was with the spring melt,” wrote David Heinle, who also appeared in person during the Oct. 13 Zoom meeting. “The Davises mitigated that without any negative impact on our property. The Davises are good neighbors. Their children are polite and well-behaved. We support the Davis’ winter ice rink. We encourage your approval of their request to continue having the winter ice rink.”
Davis submitted drawings showing the location of the rink relative to his neighbors’ properties, but also submitted a humorous “side view” drawing showing hockey boards, the rink, stick figure “happy kids” playing on the rink and a “bonfire for s’mores.”
Davis and his wife, Megan, told commissioners this winter would be his seventh year of installing the rink, and that any complaints were addressed immediately last year by moving hockey players to the side of the rink away from the Shea home.
Commissioner Analiese Eicher, also a member of the Dane County Board of Supervisors, questioned the need for the request to come before the commission. She also wondered about others in Sun Prairie who have installed basketball courts or soccer nets without the city’s permission and what kind of precedent it could set.
“I don’t personally think we need a CUP for children to be able to use their own backyard,” Eicher told the commission.
Eicher said she does not think it is appropriate to put more conditions on the Davises when there are plenty there now, and that they have already gone above and beyond to meet the conditions of neighbors and city staff.
Either said it already seemed that the Davises were open and openly communicating about the rink and able to resolve things among themselves.
She said she does not think CUPs for things like this are not a route to go down for the plan commission, but pledged to support it. “And I hope my fellow plan commissioners do as well,” she added.
Commissioner Kevin Wait also supported the CUP, but asked for city planning staff to weigh in on why it was needed. Gritzmacher said the main reason was because the Davises wanted relief from the bulk landscaping requirements — such as a fence — associated with the use in a SUP.
If the city council — set to consider the rink CUP as part of its Oct. 20 agenda — rejects the CUP, the Davises could apply for an SUP, which does not require a public hearing, according to Gritzmacher.
“I fully support this,” Wait said, “and applaud the Davises for doing this and wished my parents had done this for me when I was little.”
Commissioners Steve Stocker and Paul Schulte recused themselves from the discussion and did not vote on the CUP, which was forwarded with an approval recommendation to the city council unanimously.