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New Ballgame

Latest debate on the master plan revision for the park focuses on athletic fields.

With the latest draft of the master plan revision for Nottoway Park, the Fairfax County Park Authority has jumped from one boiling pot to another. Although the previous issue of a proposed maintenance facility has been resolved, the latest controversy concerns the recommendation to replace one Little League field with one soccer field.

"The Vienna Little League is absolutely not against building soccer fields," said Bill Cervenak, chair of Vienna Little League. "Our position is that the county has lagged in the construction and maintenance of athletic fields."

Cervenak was one of dozens who spoke at a June 22 public hearing conducted by the Park Authority to discuss the latest master plan revision for Nottoway Park, a 90-acre district park located at 9537 Courthouse Road in Vienna. The hearing, attended by approximately 200 citizens, according to county estimates, focused on two issues: appreciation of the decision to no longer consider constructing a maintenance facility at the park, and the question of whether to replace a 60-foot diamond field used by the Little League with a rectangular field for soccer.

The families at the hearing who favored keeping the Don and Norma Jean Curry Field for baseball argued that the Park Authority's method of creating athletic fields was misguided. Instead of sacrificing one field in favor of another, the county should make creating new fields and maintaining existing ones a priority.

THE LOSS of any athletic field also puts a strain on recreational sports, as field space is at a premium. Cervenak cited a field near Thoreau Middle School which is often used concurrently by both Little League and the Madison High School lacrosse team.

"This is how tight everything is, when a high school doesn't have enough space. There is no place for everyone to play. Every place is taken," said Cervenak after the meeting.

Yet those supporting a soccer field also argued that they do not have enough field space to play in the area. For several of the nearest spaces, such as fields in Dunn Loring and near Kilmer Middle School, Vienna Youth Soccer has had to help pay for the fields' upkeep, in order to keep scarce space from degrading. For a field near Colvin Run, the soccer organization has contributed $80,000 to its upkeep.

Patrick Andress of Vienna, a parent involved with Vienna Youth Soccer, attended the June 22 hearing and conceded that the baseball supporters' arguments were persuasive.

"I empathize with baseball, that field is pristine," said Andress after the meeting, adding that his children also play baseball.

Andress offered no easy solutions for resolving the issue, other than the wish that the master plan could accommodate all parties' needs.

"My hope is that they put both soccer fields and baseball fields," Andress said.

The decision to replace a baseball field with a soccer field was not a sudden decision, according to Irish Grandfield, senior planner for the Fairfax County Park Authority. The change in the master plan was made in response to several public workshops on the master plan that have taken place since November 2002, the most recent being a Feb. 5, 2004, public hearing at which more than 200 citizens showed up to comment on a previous draft revision.

"At all those meetings, what we were consistently told was that, we don't take trees down, we don't want a maintenance facility, we need another rectangular field," Grandfield said.

Replacing a baseball field with a soccer field accommodated those previous citizen testimonies, Grandfield said, as well as a 2004 needs-assessment report conducted by the Park Authority, which found that the county had a surplus of Little League-sized diamond fields but a lack of rectangular fields.

Yet Grandfield added that Park Authority staff would consider recent public testimony supporting the baseball field as they make their report to the Park Authority Board.

"We'll be taking that into account," Grandfield said.

WHILE BALLFIELDS now dominate the discussion around Nottoway Park's master plan revision, citizens also declared satisfaction toward the decision to remove the possible construction of a maintenance facility at Nottoway Park.

"Friends of Nottoway is very happy that the Park Authority listened to the community," said Kate Beddall of Vienna, referring to a citizen and neighborhood group that was formed out of concern over the proposed maintenance facility.

Beddall added that the group was pleased with the efforts to keep tree loss at a minimum. She also said Friends of Nottoway supported the inclusion of the community gardens into the master plan, as well as the designation of a 2001-acquired, 6-acre parcel as a resource protection zone. That parcel contains the foundation of a late 19th-century, lower-middle-class home, according to preliminary architectural studies.

Although Friends of Nottoway had not focused on the ballfields issue, Beddall hoped the issue would work out without leading to a loss of trees. At the park, the group had found 22 bird species and over 70 different plant species through casual observation.

The park "seems to be very rich, in our view," Beddall said.

Citizens with Friends of Nottoway looked forward to keeping the park as is. One member, Richard Bavier of Vienna, uses the park sometimes twice a day — a run in the morning and a walk in the evening with his wife.

"I thought it went fine with the amendment that was brought forward," Bavier said.