After more than 20 years, Lee District Park is about to get a face lift.
At a Nov. 15 meeting, members of the Fairfax County Park Authority discussed possible changes to the park, which may include lighting three fields, creating a family recreation area and modifying the layout of some fields.
Less than a dozen people spoke during the meeting, said Park Authority representative Judy Pedersen, "but no one said anything we didn't expect to hear."
Most residents who spoke expressed concern about lighting fields, the impact it would have on two residential neighborhoods near the park, Pedersen said.
"Lee District Park is in the middle of a neighborhood," said Doug Boulter, president of the Virginia Hills Citizens Association, one of the neighborhoods near the park. "It's problematic when we have night games that dump large numbers of kids out into our streets at night as it is. If three fields are lighted, we're looking at the possibility of up to 200 cars on our streets late at night," he said, estimating the number of young athletes that would have to be driven home from three simultaneous soccer games.
THE VIRGINIA HILLS neighborhood is located near Telegraph Road and Rose Hill Drive, busy streets during rush hour traffic, Boulter said. "We oppose the lights for that reason," he said. "We had been promised by the Park Authority that there would be minimum spill-over from the lights into people's backyards. Those promises sound pretty hollow now."
If the fields are lighted, it opens up the possibility of late night games "seven days a week for as long as they can use the fields," Boulter said.
As a member of the county's Park Authority when Lee District Park was planned, Carl Sell said the concerns voiced by residents in 1975 prevented the ball fields at the park from being lighted for night use.
"Thirty years later, I feel we must object to the lights for the same concerns of glare, preserving the night sky and limiting the traffic on Rose Hill Drive," said Sell.
Sell, who is also president of the Rose Hill Civic Association, said Lee District Park is "different from other parks" because of its location near the two neighborhoods. "
"You can only get to the park by going through one of the neighborhoods, and we're concerned about the amount of traffic we might have on our streets late at night," Sell said. "We're trying to get the county to do some traffic calming measures on Rose Hill Drive as it is, so it doesn't make sense to add more traffic."
Children have been playing soccer and baseball games in the park for 30 years without lights, he said, "so I don't see why we need them now."
However, some community members think that lighting the fields would give more children a chance to play without having a real impact on neighbors.
"In the 1970s, kids played baseball in the spring and football in the fall," said James Lucero, president of Pioneer Baseball, which uses the five baseball diamonds at Lee District Park.
Currently, a few of the diamond-shaped fields are shared between baseball and soccer fields, depending on how games are scheduled. If the fields are lighted, it would help ease some of the strain on the shortage of fields in Fairfax County, Lucero said.
"The overlays used in the park made sense before, but now kids are playing baseball in the spring and the fall, and they're playing soccer in the spring, summer and fall," he said. "If they're going to redo the park, it would make sense to make it available year-round."
THE PARK AUTHORITY'S preliminary plan calls for one rectangular and one diamond field to be lighted, Lucero said.
"There is a critical shortage of 90-foot baseball diamonds at this park and in the county," he said. "We would like to have at least one of our fields lighted, but ideally we'd like to see all the fields have lights on them."
Concerns about extra traffic caused by lighted fields is somewhat overrated, he said.
"If one diamond and one rectangle field are lighted, you're not talking about all that much traffic," Lucero said. "There would be one game on each field and the games would be done by 10 p.m. at the latest. Plus, the newer technology used in the lights reduces the glare and spill-over significantly."
The park is lined with trees that would block the light from affecting the neighborhoods during the spring, summer and early fall, he said. "The only time there's no coverage from the trees is in the winter when the fields aren't in use anyway," said Lucero.
Adding lights to the fields would reduce the need for weekend games, which would open the park up to adult teams or pick-up games. "Without the lights, we have to cram in more games during the week and before dark for the younger kids or travel to other parks that have lights, or play during the weekend," he said.
Lucero said he is also hoping for the addition of permanent batting cages at the park. For the past 10 years, Pioneer baseball has been using temporary cages, set up on tennis courts.
"The Park Authority's plan calls for a new use for the tennis courts, but we'd need a new batting cage facility. We've used those cages for at least 10 years, probably more, every fall," Lucero said.
If significant changes are made to Lee District Park, Boulter hopes to see an elevated crosswalk installed between Huntley Meadows and the park to combine the trails that begin in Huntley Meadows and ones in Virginia Hills.
"The trouble is, the main street through there is South Kings Highway, which is especially busy during rush hour," Boulter said. "The Park Authority is proposing that people walk through the neighborhoods to get to the park, but there are a lot of older people in this area, and asking them to walk two miles to get to the park is unreasonable."
The Park Authority is accepting any written or electronically-submitted comments about the redesign of Lee District Park until Dec. 15.