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by Chris Teale September 18, 2017 at 1:15 pm 0

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.”

by Chris Teale September 13, 2017 at 2:30 pm 0

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.

Opponents say lights are incompatible with the residential neighborhood, would create more traffic and light pollution while damaging wildlife and trees.

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.

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:

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by ARLnow.com May 16, 2017 at 9:20 am 0

Field Lighting Recommendation Pushed to September — A long-delayed decision on whether to add lights to the athletic fields next to Williamsburg Middle School is getting delayed again: county staff says it will not have a recommendation for the County Board until September. A community work group that spent three years tackling the subject was unable to come to a consensus in its 89-page report. [InsideNova]

VDOT-Maintained Neighborhood Streets Crumbling — VDOT is trying to catch up on its paving of secondary (neighborhood) streets, but in places like Fairfax County many such roads are crumbling. Arlington County paves its own local roads rather than relying on VDOT, though the agency is still responsible for maintaining highways and some primary routes in the county. [WTOP]

School Board to Give Land to County — Despite the current school capacity crunch, the Arlington School Board is expected to deed 4.75 acres of land next to Taylor Elementary School to the county government, which will use it to expand Zachary Taylor Park. The land has been deemed too steep and unsuitable for building new facilities. [InsideNova]

Flickr pool photo by Lisa Novak

by Samantha Moore November 16, 2016 at 1:35 pm 0

The Williamsburg Field Site Evaluation Workgroup, the citizen body charged with weighing in on the thorny issue of whether an athletic field near Williamsburg Middle School should have lights, is set to have its 21st meeting tonight (Wednesday).

The workgroup is preparing to write its draft report, which will be presented to county commissions next month and reviewed with the Arlington County Board in January before a final set of recommendations is presented to the Board in February.

Earlier this month the workgroup held an open house at which those on both sides — for and against lighting the artificial turf field — presented their case. ARLnow.com spoke to a number of people at the meeting.

“I’m for the fields,” said Chris Smith, a nearby resident. “I think it’s fantastic that we have the resources that we do in Arlington, and the utility of the turf fields is only expanded by having them lit at different times during the day. It gives us more time on the fields, particularly give the children more time on the fields, as the days get shorter, through the winter and I think that’s only a good thing.”

“I’m probably one of the four or five houses that are closest… whatever the effects could be I would probably feel them as much as anybody else,” Smith added. “But as a member of the local youth sports community and as a father of three children, two of whom are at Discovery [Elementary], I think it’s a better investment with the lights there.”

A number of supporters said their kids play soccer and having a lighted field closer to home — currently they must travel to Gunston Middle School or Long Bridge Part to play at night — would benefit far more residents than the lights would, potentially, negatively affect.

Opponents, however, said in their presentation that the area around the field is a “historically dark and quiet neighborhood” and lighting the field would be a slippery slope leading, perhaps, to turning “all of Arlington County into a big city with big-city traffic, noise and lights.”

“I live close to the field, my kids went to this school and we already lived through building Discovery school, the elementary school, which has been fine, actually,” said a lighting opponent who did not give her name. “But this will have games going at night, I don’t know how many nights a week, late at night. They already have games it seems, a lot, all day, all weekend. It seems like it’s just too much for the neighborhood and the lights will disturb everybody’s sleep and rest and just the peace and quiet of the neighborhood.”

“I just don’t think you have to play soccer 24/7,” the lighting opponent continued. “You know, enough is enough.”

County Board member Christian Dorsey attended the open house and said the lengthy community process — which started in September 2013 — is intended to give all residents plenty of opportunity to shape the county’s ultimate decision.

“We put together a workgroup because this is not an easy issue to decide or deliberate about,” Dorsey said. “The Board wanted to make sure we gave individuals from communities, affected communities who are also part of interest groups to really go deep into the issues so that they could give us all the perspectives that we needed to make a decision. So, this is kind of a — not the culmination — but it’s nearing the end of their work and this is really a useful way to take what they’ve learned and share it with the wider public.”

“We need to make an informed decision,” Dorsey concluded, “which is what I look forward to.”

by ARLnow.com October 12, 2016 at 1:00 pm 0

Google Earth view of Williamsburg Middle School and Discover ElementaryThree 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).

The process started in September 2013, with the County Board’s approval of a new elementary school — later named Discovery Elementary — on the Williamsburg site.

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

by Mariah Joyce June 15, 2015 at 10:30 am 2,054 0

Williamsburg Middle School (via Wikimedia)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.

The issue first emerged in 2013 as neighbors battled soccer parents over whether Williamsburg’s fields should be lighted. The County Board ultimately deferred the lighting decision until 2015.

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.

Design of new Williamsburg elementary school

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.

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