In February 2017, the Williamsburg Field Site Evaluation Workgroup (WFWG) must report to the County Board on whether field lights can be installed at Williamsburg Middle School (WMS) without unduly degrading neighborhood character and quality of life.
As the County Board Chair acknowledged in 2013, the WFWG exists because WMS neighbors were “ambushed” (Comments on item 59).
Arlington Public Schools and County staff previously had assured WMS neighbors that the WMS fields would remain unlighted Bermuda grass. County staff broke this promise by inserting language in the Discovery Elementary School Use Permit, providing for synthetic turf and expedited action on lights (See page two of report by Charles Monfort, beginning at pdf p. 15).
WMS neighbors are not selfish NIMBY fanatics. They simply chose to live in an area that’s among the most sparsely populated in Arlington, composed entirely of single-family homes, some located less than 100 feet from the WMS fields. At night, it’s quiet and dark. Wildlife abound in the wooded area nestled against the soccer fields.
Sports user groups have led the drive for field lights. The Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) solicited a plan from Arlington’s sole-source lighting vendor, Musco Lighting, without a competitive bidding process.
Musco proposes to install the highest intensity non-professional sports lights inside the Beltway — radiating more blue light than the new street lights many Arlington residents say are too harsh, brighter than the lights residents of Queens and Brooklyn refused to tolerate.
Nancy Clanton, a nationally recognized expert on sustainable lighting design, concluded that Musco’s plan would produce glare levels 2-3 times higher than national and international standards for dark, light-sensitive neighborhoods, cause even more glare on humid evenings, and increase human health and environmental risks.
In June, the American Medical Association sounded the alarm about high intensity blue lights, warning these are associated with reduced sleep time, nighttime awakenings, impaired daytime functioning and harmful glare affecting the elderly and children with vision-related disabilities.
Noise and nighttime traffic are also concerns since County sports fields are exempt from the noise ordinance. Nor do the County’s low traffic projections seem realistic given sports users’ hopes for thousands of hours of additional playing time from field lights.
Although adult use of rectangular fields County-wide has steadily declined since 2013, the number of children playing organized sports is rising. WMS neighbors advocate alternatives to meet children’s needs by adding a new lighted field enthusiastically supported by neighborhoods near Long Bridge Park, organic synthetic turf and less polluting lights to replace those currently at Kenmore, and non-carcinogenic turf at parks and schools elsewhere in the County with soggy grass fields.
Lighting advocates suggest mitigation measures such as installing blinds and using white noise machines. But the proposed measures are either not enforceable or would drastically alter neighbors’ quality of life. Who wants to live with blinds and curtains drawn tight and without being able to go outdoors or open windows at night?
Arlington’s General Land Use Plan seeks to preserve the County’s traditional residential neighborhoods–especially those that possess unique natural values. The County Board must decide whether these are worth preserving. Once lost they cannot be restored.
The County Board should say NO to field lights at WMS.
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