(Updated at 4:35 p.m.) Tensions are rising in the Aurora Highlands neighborhood, as residents engage in a letter-writing, petition-signing tug-of-war over the softball fields at Virginia Highlands Park.
A pair of letters to the County Board from members of the Aurora Highlands Civic Association (AHCA), sent this month and in April, as well as a petition launched today (Thursday), illustrate a deepening divide between sports fans and open space advocates, who envision divergent futures for one diamond field in the park near Pentagon City.
The civic tussle surfaced while the neighborhood tested a new arrangement. This spring, Field #3 in Virginia Highlands Park — the bigger of the two diamond fields — was split between scheduled games and casual use by neighbors, after the civic association said neighbors flocked to the field last year when sports were canceled due to the pandemic.
Adult softball had the field on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. It was open to residents for casual use Saturday through Monday, Department of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish said.
“This allows for the adult softball league to play on a field that is the correct size for their sport, while allowing the community access to a large green space in their neighborhood,” she said.
Some see shared use as a success requiring more maintenance to work long-term, while others see the model as successful but unsustainable — a demonstration that the community needs softball games condensed to one field and the other, possibly Field #3, converted into open space.
“This would allow thousands of our residents within Aurora Highlands, Arlington Ridge, Crystal City and beyond to have access to regular programming and dedicated casual use space, which does not exist in [Virginia Highlands Park],” civic association president and open space supporter Scott Miles tells ARLnow.
Bart Epstein, a civic association member and softball player, tells ARLnow that, barring maintenance problems, softball players who use Field #3 support the current arrangement and fear the alternative.
“It’s been a constant, low-level effort by a tiny group of people to see the fields destroyed,” he said.
Both sides report problems with shared use, which means the fields are used for everything from softball games to music nights. During an April meeting, AHCA members discussed the time and money required to use the field for non-athletes and return it to being game-ready.
“A big takeaway from the shared use work is that without an immense effort to ‘placemake’ with art, seating, activities, shade, etc.,” Miles said this week. “A field is just a field, and is of limited use. Making it more dedicated is the only way the needed casual uses can be maintained.”
Softball players and the parks department, meanwhile, say other users of the field leave behind waste from their dogs, which also dig holes, creating hazards for players.
“My hope is that the County Board will instruct the Department of Parks and Recreation to fully and properly support and maintain the fields,” Epstein said. Read More
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(Updated at 9:45 p.m.) A neighborhood group’s years-long battle against softball fields at Virginia Highlands Park in the Pentagon City area is continuing.
The Aurora Highlands Civic Association doesn’t have anything against the sport itself, but asserts that the permit-priority fields on the west side of the park at 1600 S. Hayes Street could be better used as unprogrammed open space.
To prove the point, the association last week sent a letter — and a produced video — to the Arlington County Board highlighting community use of one field during the pandemic, after organized sports activities were cancelled.
“Cancellation of organized sports in the spring allowed community members to put Livability concepts into action over the summer, transforming one of VHP’s softball field spaces into a continuously used public space for art installations, social distancing meetups, and varied casual uses from kite flying, exercising, and families playing with their kids,” wrote AHCA President Scott Miles.
“Events and performances like Zumba classes and Music and Picnic in the Park on Saturdays have gathered over 80 people at a time, all safely distanced, even while other casual uses continue alongside,” he added.
Four years ago, the association released a proposal calling for the removal of the softball fields in favor of space that was open to all.
“The fields are significantly underused relative to other facilities and especially to open space,” the proposal said. “Each field is used for approximately 600 hours per year out of a potential of 4,380 hours (12 hours a day), a total of less than 14% of the time.”
Miles wrote last week that the recent community experience proves the point that the fields are underused when designated primarily for softball.
“With greater casual use access over the past five months supported by [the Dept. of Parks and Recreation] and local stakeholders, the space has been used more heavily and continuously than ever before, helping support local restaurants, build a sense of shared community, and provide diverse and equitable access to all area residents,” he wrote.
Other initiatives are in the works for the park. A new, temporary community garden has been added, and a proposed temporary dog park near the softball fields has received financial backing from Amazon.
The letter to the County Board — with some links added — is below, along with a video produced by the local group Livability 22202.
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Arlington’s youth baseball and softball leagues, much like the major professional sports leagues, are going on an immediate hiatus.
“In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the diamond sports leagues in Arlington have suspended indefinitely all activities including practices, games, coaching clinics, and team meetings until further notice,” the local leagues said in a statement sent to ARLnow.
“The announcements by Arlington Babe Ruth (ABR), Arlington Senior Babe Ruth (ASBR), Arlington Little League (ALL) and Arlington Girls Softball Association (AGSA) were made on Thursday night following multiple conversations among league officials and with Arlington Department of Parks and Recreation,” the statement continued. “The leagues were gearing up for the start of the 2020 season with pre-season practices scheduled to commence on Saturday morning. Bats and balls will have to wait at least a few weeks until the public health emergency is sufficiently contained.”
“ABR is taking this action for the personal safety of our players, families, and volunteers, and for the interest of public health in our community,” Arlington Babe Ruth President JP Cooney said in a letter to parents. “We will always be guided by the best interests of our players and families, and we abide by our commitment to being a responsible leader-organization in the Arlington community.”
The four leagues “are continually evaluating the situation and plan to resume sports activities only when it is safe to do so,” noted the statement. So far, there have been two confirmed cases of coronavirus in Arlington. Earlier today the Arlington Soccer Association also announced that it is suspending operations.
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Photo courtesy @thelastfc
Controversial renovations to a baseball field at Bluemont Park are now over, as that area of the park reopened last week and is set to celebrate Saturday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The project at the 601 N. Manchester Street park brought a full replacement of one of its baseball fields, as well as the installation of a connector on the Four Mile Run Trail to N. Manchester Street and Ashlawn Elementary School.
The renovated field got new sod, irrigation, site circulation, fencing, backstops, bleachers, furniture, signage, ADA accessibility improvements and drainage. It officially reopened for use on Friday, June 30.
Neighbors fought against the plan to renovate the baseball field, and met with youth baseball and softball boosters last year for a county-organized “listening session” so each side could have its say. Those in favor of the plan said it would make the field more playable and help keep up with demand as the number of children playing youth baseball continues to rise.
Residents raised concerns about the field being fenced in, and a compromise was reached as the county agreed to remove about 20 percent of the fencing. County Manager Mark Schwartz added at the time that Arlington must reconsider its public outreach on such projects, after opponents said that they were blindsided by the plan.
Saturday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony will include a presentation of colors by the Arlington County Joint Honor Guard and the singing of the National Anthem as well as remarks by County Board members and the community. It begins at 11 a.m.
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Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf
(Updated at 3 p.m.) Arlington County is moving forward with construction plans for Stratford Park.
The current park has picnic tables, a youth baseball/softball field (which has also been used by adult team sports), two lighted tennis courts, a rectangular field and a lighted basketball court.
The new park, which is in the final design stages and is expected to go out to bid in the first quarter of 2017, will include upgraded fields, courts, landscaping and site furnishings.
Among the planned changes: the new diamond field will be fenced in, with dugouts, batting cages and bleachers added.
While the fence around a soon-to-be-upgraded diamond field in Bluemont Park prompted a neighborhood outcry this fall, since largely resolved by removing portions of the fence, thus far there has been little public protest about the Stratford Park fence.
Arlington Dept. of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish said the field’s primary purpose will be to host organized baseball and softball activities, though other uses will be allowed when the field is not otherwise being used.
“The approved plan does include fence around the diamond field, as the field will primarily be used for diamond sports (permit takes priority),” she told ARLnow.com, via email. “The fence entrances will always be open to allow people access to the area when the field is not in use.”
The parks department sent an email to residents who live near the park last month, updating them on the project’s progress. An excerpt of that email, detailing some of the changes, is below.
Construction of the park upgrades is expected to begin in the second quarter of 2017 and wrap up within the first three months of 2018. The overall design, management and construction budget is $1.7 million.
In early 2015, the County worked with the community to develop a concept plan for the site. The concept plan is a tool to inform the County, APS and the community on how new school access routes and other changes to the school site within the park boundary could impact the plan for park improvements. DPR worked closely with APS in order to coordinate pedestrian accessibility from the park to the school. In addition, a restroom facility will be provided at the school for park users. DPR may make some minor changes to the concept as final costs for the improvements are determined in order to ensure the project remains within budget.
The approved project scope includes replacing and bringing existing features to current standards and adding new amenities to the park. Below is a breakdown of each one.
Existing to be Replaced:
- Tennis Courts
- Basketball Court
- Court Lighting
- Diamond Field
- Players Benches
- Fencing (split rail)
- Stairs and Walkways
- Trash Receptacles
- Trees and Shrubs
New to the Park:
- Drinking Fountain
- Pedestrian Lighting
- Batting Cages
- Outfield Fence
- Retaining Walls
- 50/70 Intermediate (50/70) Diamond Field Layout with Irrigation
- Additional Trash Receptacles and Seating
- Picnic Area
- Storm Water Management Facility
- Additional Landscaping
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James Lander, the Chair of the Arlington School Board, has responded to public concerns about use of school facilities raised by the Arlington Girls Softball Association.
On Monday afternoon Lander wrote to Steve Severn, president of the 30+ year old organization, regarding use of Wakefield High School’s softball field, as well as proposed batting cages and sponsor signage at Arlington Traditional School.
Lander said that the Wakefield softball field is closed to all teams due to safety concerns, that the school system is willing to find a location and design for the ATS batting cage that doesn’t interfere with school operation and that AGSA may put up temporary sponsor signage around school fields but must then take it down after games.
Lander, a Democrat, is currently running for Arlington County Board.
The full letter is below.
Dear Mr. Severn:
I am writing to respond further to concerns that have been expressed about use of Arlington school facilities by the Arlington Girls Softball Association (AGSA).
The Wakefield softball field is not being used by any teams until some improvements have been made. The positioning and safety measures for the softball field at Washington-Lee High School are different and, as a result, decisions are made to meet the unique needs of each space. The safety inspector was concerned about the proximity of Wakefield’s field to the parking lot and walkway through the site, and so APS has agreed to install safety netting. Regarding Wakefield’s use of other fields in the community, today was the last day for practice or play by the Wakefield softball teams, and the Wakefield Varsity Softball tournament will take place at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County on Monday, May 18.
The AGSA has proposed building a batting cage at Arlington Traditional School. APS believes that the initially proposed location for the batting cage would be disruptive to the school’s program and that the specific design would not be appropriate on school property. The Assistant Superintendent for Facilities and Operations, Mr. John Chadwick, has spoken to Mr. Severn about this issue and has explained that APS is willing to consider other potential placement of the batting cage at the school and an alternative design. We look forward to working with the County and community representatives on this measure to find a solution that meets the needs of all parties.
We understand the important role that the AGSA sponsors play in supporting this opportunity for young girls in our community. Regarding the issue of posting banners on the fence at Arlington Traditional, as noted in earlier replies, the School Board policies do not allow outside groups to post and leave signs in schools and on school grounds over an eight-week period. However, when community groups such as the Babe Ruth and Arlington Little League teams use our fields and local groups like churches and other community organizations use our schools, as part of their community use they regularly post signs and/or distribute flyers during their activity and then the signs and flyers are taken away at the end of the event. We hope that the Arlington Girls Softball Association will consider this option so that the girls softball sponsors can be recognized during your practices and games.
Finally, the Arlington Department of Parks and Recreation has contacted APS about these and other concerns, and our staffs will be working collaboratively over the coming months to develop a consistent framework for all athletics and community groups to follow when using county and school spaces so that we can avoid any future misunderstandings.
James Lander, Chair