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County Manager Recommends Lights For Williamsburg Turf Fields

by Chris Teale June 30, 2017 at 3:45 pm 0

County Manager Mark Schwartz announced Friday he is recommending lights for two synthetic turf fields near Williamsburg Middle School and Discovery Elementary School.

Schwartz recommended that the two fields be lit with shielded LED lights that could be dimmed during evening play, and that lights be left on no later than 9:45 p.m. Eighty-four lights would be installed on six 80-foot poles to light the fields.

Schwartz said in a statement:

I appreciate the hard work that the Williamsburg Fields Evaluation Work Group put into assessing the risks and benefits of lighting the Williamsburg fields. Their thoughtful evaluation formed the foundation of my recommendation.

This was not an easy call, but the county’s policy is that we light synthetic turf fields, and I am convinced, by our experience in lighting other fields in residential neighborhoods, that we can mitigate whatever adverse impacts lights might have. Our entire community will benefit from providing more playing time for our growing number of young people who are playing field sports.

The recommendation has brought a strong reaction from local residents, who delivered a petition with more than 550 signatures against lights on the fields to the County Board.

The Board previously appointed the Williamsburg Field Site Evaluation Work Group to study the effects of lights and propose options, but Gail Harrison, a member of the group, said it was not presented with the plan Schwartz has advanced until a few days before its last meeting.

Harrison said the “11th-hour proposal” by lighting company Musco was a “fundamental breach of the public process.” Harrison said adding lights is not appropriate for the Rock Spring neighborhood.

“The [Rock Spring] Civic Association surrounding the fields has taken a strong and consistent position over many years that field lights at this location are incompatible with the character of the neighborhood,” Harrison told ARLnow on Friday afternoon. “The neighborhood civic association has stressed going back to at least 2009 or before that, its intention to try to preserve the neighborhood in its natural condition, to minimize traffic, to protect wildlife habitat and the tree canopy. The proposal would be inconsistent with all of those neighborhood goals.”

Schwartz said he made his recommendation based on the need for more playing time on Arlington’s fields. He will bring his recommendations to the County Board’s September meeting for further discussion.

More from a county press release after the jump:

Youth outdoor sports in Arlington have grown from 15,033 participations in 2011 to 24,326 in 2017 – a 65 percent increase. Eighty percent of the County’s current youth outdoor sports participation is played on a rectangular field, where boys and girls play soccer, ultimate Frisbee, lacrosse, tackle football and flag football. The County expects participation in youth outdoor sports will continue to grow at an average rate of eight percent a year.

Schwartz’s recommendations call for installing six 4500K (Kelvin) lights with a dimming feature on 80-foot poles at the fields, located at 3600 Harrison St, on the Williamsburg Middle School-Discovery Elementary School site. For evening activities, the lights could be dimmed to reduce the impact of glare by 30 percent to 50 percent. The pole height would mitigate light pollution by allowing the fixtures to be aimed directly at the field. Installing 80-foot poles would require a Zoning Ordinance amendment and an amendment to the Use Permit for Williamsburg Middle School and Discovery Elementary Schools’ campus.

Staff assessed potential impacts of lighting, including the impact on nearby homes; public health; traffic and trees.  Staff found that the risk of retinitis and glare could be mitigated with proper design and engineering, and that while circadian rhythm disruption is possible, it could be mitigated by initiating a good sleep routine. Staff also found that  lighting the fields will have minimal traffic impact – generating an expected 125-150 new vehicle trips each night spread over a 3.5-hour period between 7:30 p.m. and 11 p.m., and that a maximum of three trees could be impacted by the installation of lighting.

MOA with Rock Spring Civic Association recommended

Schwartz is recommending that the County enter into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Rock Spring Civic Association, in which the County would agree to:

  • appoint a standing committee to ensure ongoing communication to address operational and maintenance issues;
  • commit to lights remaining on no later than 9:45 p.m. – allowing about 2,000 hours of play per year;
  • commit to fields being lit only when they are scheduled, and other mitigation measures, while also reducing the number of projected vehicle trips that would occur had the fields been lit until the County 11 p.m. standard.

Schwartz’s recommendation come four months after the Williamsburg Fields Evaluation Work Group, made-up of residents, sports supporters and other stakeholders appointed by the Board in 2015 to study the issue, submitted its final recommendations. The group offered two views – one opposed to installing lights and the other open to light installation on the fields – but offered no single recommendation.

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