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Bluemont Baseball Field Compromise Approved, County Promises Better Outreach

Revised Bluemont Park baseball field planThe Arlington County Board on Wednesday approved a compromise plan for a baseball field renovation at Bluemont Park.

The $720,000 plan to renovate Athletic Field No. 3 at the park, which would have converted a run-down baseball diamond to a fenced-in field with new dugouts, bleachers and other furnishings, was met with opposition from some local residents.

To balance the desires of the opponents, who mostly objected to the fence, and the supporters, who say that the county needs more fields for youth sports, the new plan removed about 20 percent of the fencing from around the field.

“When games aren’t in play, you’ll be able to walk through the area,” said County Manager Mark Schwartz. “There’s still space for Frisbee, picnicking and walking your dog. But when a game is in play, you’ll get a good baseball experience.. and a safe one.”

Schwartz also noted in a press release that the controversy — opponents insisted that they were blindsided by the plan even though a public meeting about it had been held and it was approved by the County Board months before opponents organized — pointed to a need to reconsider Arlington’s public outreach on such projects.

Schwartz acknowledged that the County’s engagement process in planning for the renovations, which included a community meeting and digital communications, was not successful. The concerns of those opposed to the fence became known to staff and elected officials only after the County Board approved the construction contract in July 2016.

“We are working to improve the County’s processes for engaging the community across County government,” Schwartz said. “I’ve asked our new Assistant County Manager for Communications and Public Engagement, Bryna Helfer, to report back to me in early 2017 with recommendations.”

Construction of the new field is currently underway.

The full press release about the County Board’s action, after the jump.

In response to community concerns about planned renovations to a Bluemont Park ballfield, the County will reduce the amount of proposed fencing while still bringing the ballfield up to current standards, Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz said today.

“Everyone gave a little on this project, and I think we have reached a good compromise,” Schwartz said in a report to the County Board. “We’ve managed to balance the need for open space with the need for recreational facilities in this park.”

As part of its regular park maintenance cycle, Arlington’s plan is to bring the baseball diamond on Field No. 3 up to current accessibility standards, add a filter strip planted with 90 trees to reduce the stormwater runoff, and create a Safe Routes to School trail connector. The field is used mostly for youth baseball. Typically, the County fences diamond fields to improve safety and play.

The County’s original plan met with opposition from some in the community who advocated for preserving open and multi-use spaces and who objected to fencing the diamond field. The fencing, opponents protested, would cut off access to this open expanse in the park. However, players and coaches wanted the fence to enhance the feel of the game as well as improve safety. The County also needs at least a partial barrier to protect the filter strip from active play, as required by stormwater regulations.

Project compromise

The revised project will cut the amount of proposed fencing by about 20 percent, from 830 to 668 linear feet, so that people can easily walk across the field when games aren’t in play. The County also will drop the outfield fence height from 8 to 4 feet with a safety pad/cap.

“When games aren’t in play, you’ll be able to walk through the area,” Schwartz said. “There’s still space for Frisbee, picnicking and walking your dog. But when a game is in play, you’ll get a good baseball experience … and a safe one.”

Improving community engagement

Schwartz acknowledged that the County’s engagement process in planning for the renovations, which included a community meeting and digital communications, was not successful. The concerns of those opposed to the fence became known to staff and elected officials only after the County Board approved the construction contract in July 2016.

“We are working to improve the County’s processes for engaging the community across County government,” Schwartz said. “I’ve asked our new Assistant County Manager for Communications and Public Engagement, Bryna Helfer, to report back to me in early 2017 with recommendations.”

Background

The County announced the Bluemont Park — Field Renovations & Trail Connection project on its website in February 2016 and invited the community to a planning meeting March 2. After the contract was awarded, some community members expressed concerns about how the decision was made to fence the diamond field. The Department of Parks & Recreation responded by holding a public meeting Oct. 5. Preliminary work on the project began Sept. 26, but did not prohibit modifications to the proposed fence.

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