Arlington County is looking to tweak how its athletic fields are used and reserved.
Through Sept. 8, residents will have the chance to participate in a survey which county staff plan to use to develop policy that will “ensure more equitable access for recreation.”
The study is part of the Public Spaces Master Plan which calls for the county to solicit feedback from residents every five years on how frequently and at what times of day people use the fields.
In the initial survey, residents highlighted that there was not enough time and space dedicated to unscheduled casual “drop-in” or “community use” of athletic fields for community activities and requested better access to lighted fields — currently 36 out of 96 fields have lights — on weeknights and weekends.
The issue of access to athletic fields for unplanned athletic and non-athletic activities has become increasingly contentious in recent years.
Before it was adopted in 2019, the Public Spaces Master Plan came under fire from opponents who argued the county had set aside more space for athletic fields than it needed, reducing the amount of available land for other facilities, such as parks and schools.
In 2021, the Aurora Highlands Civic Association wrote numerous letters to the Arlington County Board and circulated a petition pushing for “open access” to nearby diamond athletic fields during hours when there are no scheduled games “to relax, throw frisbees, sunbathe, or even write petitions.”
However, proponents claim demand for scheduled use of sports fields is growing and believe the county should invest to help solve this problem.
To resolve these issues, Jennifer Fioretti, deputy director of Arlington’s Department of Parks and Recreation, said county staff have proposed two solutions via the Athletic Field Availability Draft Framework.
First, staff have developed a formula that calculates the “utilization rate” for each field in the county. Fioretti said she believes this strategy will help the department better understand individual field use, thereby improving “operational efficiency.”
“We will use the data, for example, to inform the re-balancing of scheduled activities and to create opportunities for community use that may have not been available in the past,” she told ARLnow in an email.
Second, county staff propose reclassifying the six fields currently labeled as “Drop-In/Community Use” to a “Permit Takes Priority” status.
Fioretti said the six drop-in fields, which include Gunston 3, Barcroft 5, VA Highlands 2, Westover, TJ Lower Field and Rocky Run, can still be reserved, which causes confusion because “Community Use/Drop-In” implies there are no activities scheduled.
The idea, she noted, is to “further simplify our field designations” in order to “spread scheduled community time throughout the County.”
“By eliminating the Drop-In/Community Use designation we will be identifying community time and scheduled sport specific times at more locations throughout the entire county,” Fioretti said.
Of Arlington’s 96 athletic fields, 12 are currently “Permit-Only,” 78 are “Permit Takes Priority,” and 6 are “Drop-In/Community Use fields.”
By participating in the second survey, residents will have the opportunity to provide feedback about the proposal which Fioretti said will help county staff determine whether it is “on the right track” or whether its proposal needs to be modified.
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