The Arlington County Board pushed back a decision on lighting athletic fields near Williamsburg Middle School, so plans can be studied further by county staff.
The Board’s unanimous 5-0 vote came after almost six hours of public testimony and discussion by opponents and proponents of the lights, with many opponents wearing matching green shirts. It means any decision on lights will be delayed to next year.
Instead of following staff’s initial recommendation to fund lighting the fields, Board members voted for County Manager Mark Schwartz to further study ways to increase the county’s stock of athletic fields, including through the use of synthetic turf and lights.
The study will include drawing on a section of the Williamsburg Field Working Group Final Report that concerns how to evaluate potential field lighting.
Schwartz announced in June he is recommending lights for the fields near Williamsburg Middle School and Discovery Elementary School in Rock Spring. He 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. He suggested 84 lights installed on six 80-foot poles.
Board vice chair Katie Cristol said further study should take into account field usage and impacts on neighborhoods (referred to as “externalities”), as well as the usage of fields by those who live nearby.
“It seems appropriate to me that those who derive the benefits should also look to bear the externalities,” Cristol said. “I think it is appropriate that we bring both the benefits and the externalities, such as they are, to the users where they are.”
But the moods of some Board members began to fray towards the end of the discussion. John Vihstadt tried to add language to avoid what he described as the “singling out” of Williamsburg Middle School and give the study a broader context. But Cristol and others objected.
“To me the question is, what do we do with five years of community input, with countless hours of staff work, hundreds of thousands of dollars in analyses spent?” Cristol asked. “We’re simply going to throw that out and start with a new process? The question becomes: what more info does this Board need to make a decision on the question before us?”
The Board also directed Schwartz to study amending the county’s Zoning Ordinance to allow lights above the current maximum height of 68 feet, thus not requiring a special approval process. Board member Christian Dorsey expressed some reservations about directing “a study that already determines an outcome,” but the study will proceed.
“The whole idea that we would direct at the moment that we’re going to have a study with an outcome really doesn’t give it a whole lot of credence,” he said.
Divisions on the topic were apparent in both public testimony and the slew of letters about the project submitted by county commissions both in support and against. Opponents say lights are incompatible with the residential neighborhood, would create more traffic and light pollution while damaging wildlife and trees.
Dorsey said it was not so simple as to term opponents as “NIMBY” neighbors and supporters as youth sports advocates. He noted that there are no “neat boxes” on an issue like this.
“I think it would be a mistake to go away from this process thinking only that the people who oppose lights are NIMBYs, and the people who favor lights don’t care about neighborhoods,” Dorsey said.
Board chair Jay Fisette and colleague Libby Garvey expressed a willingness to vote for lighting the fields, citing the work at Wakefield High School to mitigate the lights shining on nearby houses as proof the technology has evolved.
Fisette noted “disappointment in the room” from all: opponents who wanted the lights plan nixed altogether and proponents who wanted them approved that day. The direction for further study means any decision will not be made until next year.
“We’ll all be back again, someday,” Vihstadt said. “And hopefully we’ll all find a better place.”
A battle between residents and youth sports advocates will go before the Arlington County Board on Saturday (September 16) as Board members discuss adding lights to two synthetic turf fields.
County Manager Mark Schwartz announced in June he is recommending lights for the fields near Williamsburg Middle School and Discovery Elementary School in Rock Spring.
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.
And county staff is recommending the Board move his plan along, saying that it would allow for extended usage and neighbors’ worries can be mitigated.
And Saturday’s meeting could see neighborhood opponents come up against those in the youth sports community who say the lights will increase usage of the fields.
Neighbors of the fields delivered a petition with more than 550 signatures against lights on the fields to the County Board before Schwartz’s announcement. Several also sat on the Williamsburg Field Site Evaluation Work Group to study the effects of lights and propose options.
In their report, county staffers note that the group “did not come to a consensus” on lighting the fields.
“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,” Gail Harrison, a member of the work group and a neighborhood opponent of lighting the fields, said at the time of Schwartz’s announcement. “The proposal would be inconsistent with all of those neighborhood goals.”
But youth sports boosters said the lights will be necessary as participation has increased, and fields in Arlington are growing overcrowded and struggling to keep pace with demand. According to county data, youth participation in sports has increased by 56 percent in the past five years, from just over 15,000 in 2011 to just over 24,000 in 2017.
By sport, soccer, baseball, softball, flag football, lacrosse and ultimate Frisbee all saw large increases in participation from 2011 to 2016, according to an infographic sent by a coalition of local youth sports organizations.
Soccer leads the way with more than 16,000 who play in the county, followed by baseball with just over 4,000. Those in favor of the lights are likely to have a strong presence too on Saturday.
“I suspect Arlington Soccer Association will have folks there and I plan to be there for Arlington Babe Ruth [baseball], as all youth sports leagues face the same problem: increased participation… and a limited number of fields,” said George Thompson of the Arlington Babe Ruth baseball organization. “Lighting will add hundreds of hours of annual playing time for the teams that use these fields for practice and games.”
Schwartz’s plan is not yet permitted under the site’s current zoning, nor is funding available for the lights. Staff recommended the Board approve funding new lights as part of the FY 2019 capital budget, and that Schwartz initiate studies on amending the county’s Zoning Ordinance to permit light poles above their current limit of 68 feet. Staff also recommended amending the site’s use permit to allow light poles to be installed.
Arlington Man’s Dog Found Days After Fatal Crash — Ten days after 57-year-old Arlington resident William F. Schlesinger died in a crash on I-95 in North Carolina, his dog has been found alive. Nellie is being called a “miracle dog” after she wandered into a convenience store late at night with a broken leg and numerous bug bites. She had been riding in the pickup truck with Schlesinger when he reportedly fell asleep, veered off the highway and slammed into a tree. [Fayetteville Observer]
Local Election Fundraising Very Light — The frontrunners for Arlington County Board and School Board only have a few thousand dollars apiece in the bank as of the beginning of the month. Their opponents have even less. “It may turn out to be one of the least costly County Board general elections in recent history,” the Sun Gazette reports. [InsideNova]
State Dept. Office Staying in Arlington — The U.S. State Department is keeping its footprint in Rosslyn for another decade-and-a-half. The GSA signed a lease worth just over $200 million over 15 years for nearly 350,000 square feet of office space in central Rosslyn. The lease extends over two buildings, with one of the buildings also housing a private State Department contractor. [Washington Business Journal]
Update: W-L Expected to Reopen Next Week — Washington-Lee High School is expected to reopen for summer school classes next week after an air conditioning issue closed the school this week. W-L’s summer school classes were temporarily moved to Yorktown High School this week. [Arlington Public Schools]
‘Capital Bikeshare Fiesta’ in Nauck — “Arlington’s Dieta Cero-Auto program will be promoting Capital Bikeshare this Saturday at Drew Sprayground (3514 22nd Street S.) from 2-5 p.m. Stop by and purchase your CaBi membership for 50% off!” [Event Calendar]
Discovery Named ‘Green Ribbon School’ — “Discovery Elementary School is being recognized as a U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School… Discovery is one of 45 schools being honored for their innovative efforts to reduce environmental impact and utility costs, improve health and wellness, and ensure effective sustainability education.” [Arlington Public Schools]
DOE Highlights Discovery Elementary — The U.S. Department of Energy has profiled Arlington’s Discovery Elementary in a new video. DOE lauds the school for its net zero energy design, which “saves $100,000 per year in utility costs, enough to cover the salaries of two teachers” and was implemented under-budget. [YouTube, Blue Virginia]
Hackathon in Clarendon — Capital One is holding a Women in Tech hackathon at its Clarendon “lab” office next week. “Attendees will have the opportunity to ‘create a technical solution for Women Who Code that empowers girls and women to stay in the tech field.'” [Technical.ly DC, Women in Tech Demo Day]
Arlington Native Pens New Bodice Ripper — On the heels of the success of her debut novel, Seven Days, Arlington’s Ariel Atwell (the pen name of Leslie Aun) has written a follow-up, Twenty-One Nights. The Regency romance is No. 28 on Amazon’s chart for that category. [Amazon]
Nearby: JBG Announces New HQ in Bethesda — In a bit of a blow to Arlington, JBG has announced that it will be opening a new headquarters in downtown Bethesda. JBG has numerous properties in Arlington and will soon be merging with Vornado’s D.C. division, which includes extensive holdings in Arlington. [Bethesda Beat]
Flickr pool photo by Bekah Richards
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:
New LED Crossing Guard Signs — VDOT is giving Arlington County a $880 grant that will allow it to purchase four new LED-illuminated paddle signs for crossing guards. The new signs will show “‘slow’ on one side and ‘stop’ on the other… when illuminated, they are visible up to one mile away.” The County Board is expected to accept the grant at its Saturday meeting. [Arlington County]
County Board to Make Car-Sharing Permanent — On Saturday the Arlington County Board is expected to vote to make car-sharing systems permanent in county code. Earlier this year the Board authorized trips between Arlington and D.C. for car-share provider Car2Go. The move has significantly boosted Car2Go’s usage in Arlington. [UrbanTurf]
Discovery Elementary’s Net Zero Goal — Officials from the U.S. Department of Energy recently toured Arlington’s new Discovery Elementary school. The school was built to be a Net Zero Energy building, meaning that it produces more energy than it uses. The school’s solar panel array cost $1.5 million but is expected to pay for itself in about 10 years. [WJLA]
Man Sentenced for Sneaking Into U.S., Again — A Guatemalan man who has a colorful history of sneaking into the U.S., being deported, and trying to come back again, has been sentenced to jail time. Juan Abel Belteton-Barrios, 46, was sentenced to 14 months in prison and three years of supervised release. [Patch]
Why East Falls Church? — GGW has a primer on his history and geography of the various Northern Virginia locales with “Falls Church” in the name or postal address, including Arlington’s East Falls Church neighborhood. [Greater Greater Washington]
Three years, 18 working group meetings and 886 pages of posted documents later, the county is nearing the final stretch of a public process to decide whether to add lights to the athletic fields at Williamsburg Middle School.
The Williamsburg Field Evaluation Work Group will be holding a public meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 2 to discuss the process and gather more community input before drafting a report for the County Board.
“Come see what was learned, ask questions and share your input,” said a description of the meeting, which will be held from 7-9 p.m. at the middle school (3600 N. Harrison Street).
Controversy over whether new synthetic turf fields should be lighted — which pitted soccer parents against a group of residents who live near the school — prompted the Board to call for the creation of a working group. The group’s charge was finally approved, after a bit of additional intrigue, in 2015.
The 15-member group was tasked “to lead a robust community process to evaluate whether or
not to light the Williamsburg synthetic fields.” At issue: whether resident concerns about excessive light, noise and traffic at night outweigh the county’s usual policy of lighting synthetic fields to maximize use (primarily for youth sports) and return on investment.
Earlier this year the timeline for the working group was pushed back: it’s now expected to prepare a draft report in November and finalize its recommendations in January. The County Board is then expected to consider the group’s recommendations at its February meeting.
Image via Google Maps
Investigation into Marine’s Death at Base — The military is investigating the death of a 22-year-old Marine at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. Cpl. Jon Gee was reportedly found unresponsive in his room on the base Saturday afternoon, after a night out at “a rave in the District.” [Washington Post]
Rousselot Blasts Lack of Pike Transit Plan — The fact that Arlington County has no transit plan yet for Columbia Pike, after the cancellation of the streetcar last year, is frustrating to Peter Rousselot, who helped to lead the charge against the streetcar. “I think it is a failure of management,” he told WAMU. “The answer on the Pike that our group presented all along… was a regional Bus Rapid Transit system, or BRT, involving Arlington, Alexandria, and Fairfax County.” [WAMU]
Tour of New Elementary School — Arlington Public Schools led members of the media on a tour of the new Discovery Elementary School on Thursday. Located next to Williamsburg Middle School, it’s the county’s first new primary school in over a decade. Discovery is designed to be a “net zero” consumer of energy thanks to renewable energy features. [WTOP, Katch]
GMU ‘Welcome Fair’ Today — George Mason University’s Arlington campus is holding a “Welcome Fair” for students between 5:30 and 8 p.m. today. [Twitter]
Library Helps With Business Plans — Arlington Public Library helped the owners of Clarendon Animal Care, an ARLnow.com advertiser, create a business plan and launch their business. The library has a business services librarian and number of resources for entrepreneurs, including access to a premium database that compiles demographic data by ZIP code. [Twitter]
More on Arlington Radio Station — WERA, Arlington’s new community radio station, hopes to launch by December. The station will cost Arlington Independent Media, best known as the nonprofit behind Arlington’s local cable access channel, about $400,000. [Arlington Connection]
Flickr pool photo by Arlington VA
Update at 5:50 p.m. — The County Board’s action on the Williamsburg Field Site Evaluation Work Group Charge has now been deferred until July, according to an Arlington Dept. of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman.
The debate over lighting the fields at Williamsburg Middle School is making a comeback.
At its meeting
tomorrow (Tuesday) in July, the County Board will charge a working group with leading a community process to evaluate whether or not to light the Williamsburg synthetic fields.
After the County Board decides on the working group’s exact tasks at tomorrow’s meeting, members will be appointed to the group next month. It is expected to make a recommendation to the Board in May 2016. The Board will then deliberate in June 2016.
Two synthetic fields are currently under construction as part of the Discovery Elementary School project, located on the Williamsburg campus, and are scheduled for completion at the end of the summer.
Arlington Public Schools split the cost of the fields with the County, according to Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish. Kalish said that APS paid for the cost of installing natural grass fields, and the County then funded the difference.
In an APS question and answer session about the construction project held in the fall of 2012, the County stated that if it funded an artificial field, “it would expect that the field be lighted in order to maximize their investment in the field.”
While Kalish confirmed that this is typically the County’s policy regarding turf fields, in this case the Rock Spring community pushed back.
“That’s why we’re having this work group,” said Kalish.
Fifteen community members representing diverse interests will comprise the work group, including one representative from the Arlington Soccer Association and one from the Rock Spring Civic Association. The ASA and the RSCA disagreed vehemently on the construction and lighting of the field when the plan was first proposed in 2013, eventually launching dueling petitions.
President of the RSCA Carl Cunningham said that while he could not speak for all residents, most who live near the Williamsburg fields do not support the addition of lights because of concerns about potential light spillage into their homes.
Cunningham added that residents were concerned about evening noise and traffic from extended hours of play on the field, which might “fundamentally alter the basic character and their peaceful enjoyment of what has been a small, secluded and quiet neighborhood in the evenings.”
The ASA, on the other hand, stressed the need for a lit synthetic field.
“We have more children playing sports in Arlington every year, and the rate of field construction or redevelopment is not close to keeping pace, thus we have to squeeze what we can out of existing play spaces,” said ASA Executive Director Justin Wilt.
Arlington received $400,000 — and will pledge an additional $100,000 — in federal grant money to improve the walking and biking routes to the three schools in North Arlington.
The funds will go toward building new trails and sidewalks in Bluemont for Ashlawn students and will fund sidewalk improvements at the intersection of N. Kensington and 36th Streets around Discovery and Williamsburg, which are on the same property. Discovery is still under construction, but is expected to open for the 2015-2016 school year.
From the same federal program, the MAP-21 grant, Arlington will also receive $200,000 to bring sidewalks and streets in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor up to compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. According to a county press release, a county study from 2012 identified more than 1,000 locations in the corridor that were “inaccessible to persons with disabilities.”
The county will chip in $50,000 in pay-as-you-go WalkArlington funding to help fund improvements to these areas, which will be handled in order of severity.
“We’re delighted that we can use local funding to leverage federal dollars to help two key groups of Arlingtonians move more safely and easily: Arlington students who walk or bike to Ashlawn, Discovery and Williamsburg, and persons with disabilities in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor,” County Board Chair Mary Hynes said in a statement. “We welcome the federal government’s funding of these very important projects to improve safety and accessibility for all.”
Both improvement programs will continue identifying other sites around the county where safety and accessibility need to be addressed.
Under the preferred plan, five schools — Taylor, Glebe, Ashlawn, McKinley and Tuckahoe — would still be between 103.95 and 109.22 percent capacity, while Jamestown would be at 86.1 percent capacity and Nottingham and the new Discovery Elementary would each be around 90 percent.
The changes to the boundary plan the Arlington School Board approved less than two years ago are necessary, APS says, after a greater-than-expected influx of students to the county’s schools this fall. The approved plan, which was set to go into effect in fall 2015 with the opening of Discovery Elementary, is now expected to be revised at the School Board’s Jan. 22 meeting.
The revisions primarily affect McKinley Elementary School. If the Board approves staff’s preferred changes, 252 of the projected 304 students in the planning areas affected in 2016 would move or stay at McKinley by 2016. The remaining 52 students — in planning zone 1609 near Westover — would remain at Glebe Elementary. In the alternative plan, area 1607 would remain assigned to Nottingham, putting the school at 101.36 percent capacity.
APS is also “considering moving some countywide programs” to accommodate more students in overcrowded schools. APS has kept the online survey open on its More Seats website, extending the time for resident submissions from last week until Friday at 4:00 p.m.
The decision to put McKinley at nearly 9 percent above capacity while leaving Arlington’s three northernmost elementary schools at least 9 percent under capacity has drawn some criticism.
“Instead of filling McKinley to capacity, APS is considering filling it and then adding an additional 60 students above capacity,” one anonymous tipster said. “Why aren’t they equally distributing the seats? Something looks wrong with this map!”
Amy Borek, a Nottingham Elementary School parent, also questioned APS’ decision, wondering why the scope of the changes was so limited.
“By concentrating on only these planning units, APS is choosing neither to consider how to fill the empty seats at Jamestown nor convert Tuckahoe’s bused students to walking students at nearby McKinley’s new addition,” Borek told ARLnow.com in an email. “This approach to solving the overcrowding problem in North Arlington elementary schools does not appear to be working.”
Before the School Board votes on Jan. 22, it will hold a work session on Jan. 5, then an information item on Jan. 8, when Superintendent Patrick Murphy presents his recommendation to the Board. On Jan. 15, the Board will hold a public meeting on the issue before its vote. All meetings are at 1426 N. Quincy Street at 7:30 p.m.