After about a year in the planning stages and a public hearing in September, the Park Authority board, staff and citizens had anticipated reaching a conclusion on a controversial ball-field proposal at the Nov. 12 meeting of the Park board. Instead, visitors to the boardroom were treated to a heated debate among board members who ended up deferring a vote to the Dec. 10 meeting. That decision sparked the ire of some members of the Board of Supervisors, which appoints the Park board.
At issue is whether or not the Park Authority should build rectangular and diamond fields on Popes Head Estates Park, a parcel of less than 100 acres at the corner of Braddock Road and the Fairfax County Parkway. Those fields would be lighted until 11 p.m., according to the Park Authority's master plan. The park would include a picnic area, playgrounds for children, and parking. About a third of the site would be preserved.
At the Park board meeting, board member Kenneth Feng of Springfield moved that the board adopt the plan to build fields on the site. But before the board could vote on it, Park board chairman Winifred Shapiro proposed changes to the plan that would reduce the number of fields built in order to better protect wetlands on the site.
"I was proposing amendments that would protect wetlands and provide for athletic field development, but not as much athletic development as in the staff proposal," she said after the meeting.
Feng objected, saying he did not have time to examine Shapiro's proposal.
"Springing this at the last minute, I don't think is really quite fair," he said. "I'm quick, but I'm not that quick, and these are substantive changes."
Shapiro later said she had circulated her draft language the night before the meeting but that her proposal had been discussed earlier in a committee meeting.
After about half an hour of debate, board member Frank Vajda (Mason) moved to defer the vote until the December meeting.
Shapiro's proposal and the vote's deferral outraged Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield), who criticized the Park Authority board for considering changes to the plan after the public hearing.
"I feel like the whole integrity of the Park Authority process is in doubt," she said, adding that new ball fields were a priority in her district.
She also threatened never to turn over any more land to the Park Authority to develop.
About 55 people turned out for the Sept. 2 hearing on the plan. Representatives from sports clubs urged the Park Authority to build the fields, while environmental activists said they wanted to preserve the area as a naturally wooded area. Residents of the nearby Lincoln Park subdivision expressed concern about increased traffic through their neighborhood.