County OKs Laurel Hill Park

County OKs Laurel Hill Park

Neighbors, Federation disagree over one field.

All it took was one soccer field for John Fedorshik. The Fairfax County Park Authority’s plan for the sprawling 1,186-acre Laurel Hill Park was generally good, but one lighted soccer field at what had been a Nike missile site, upset nearby neighbors.

“Any lighted fields on that site are going to be seen by those residents on Hooes Road,” said Fedorshik of the Lorfax Heights Civic Association. “I would really like to see that one field not be there.”

The Fairfax County Park Authority began planning what to do with the land of the former Lorton prison in 2003. In July 2004, the Park Authority Board approved a plan for the park and on Oct. 19, that plan was reviewed by the Fairfax County Planning Commission.

Fairfax County will be put the land it acquired to a wide array of uses. Sections have been given to the School Board, which opened South County Secondary School last month. A county-run golf course opened on Oct. 15 (with a clubhouse due to open in the spring), and about 700 acres will be left as open space. A system of trails will criss-cross the land, and areas abutting residential neighborhoods will be developed with playgrounds and picnic areas. A large area is planned as a sports complex to include a number of fields — the exact number has not yet been determined — and an indoor facility.

A county operated horse stable will offer riding lessons. The Cold War Museum, brainchild of Gary Powers, son of Cold-War era U2 pilot Frances Gary Powers, will also have a home at Laurel Hill.

The Park Authority plans athletic fields for several spots on the park site, but some nearby residents objected to a plan that had called for two lighted rectangular (typically soccer or lacrosse) fields near buildings that had been part of a Nike facility. The Park Authority removed one of the fields from its plans, as a compromise.

AREA RESIDENTS noted that the Nike site is located on a hill. Some thought that it was the highest point on the Laurel Hill Property, but that point is actually on the grounds of a planned middle school, said Kelly Davis of the Park Authority. The site is still higher than many surrounding residences, however.

Additionally, the site is next to the fields at South County Secondary which has a lighted field of it own, noted Planning Commission Chair Peter Murphy (Springfield). The school’s fields are located between the Nike site and many houses, and produce more light than the Park Authority lights will, Murphy said.

“What you are putting up is really negligible to anybody,” he said.

Commissioner Laurie Frost Wilson (At-large) disagreed and asked what the Park Authority can do to shield the nearby residents form the lighting. Wilson said she had gone so far as to ask the Office of the County Attorney if the field runs afoul of the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan’s directive to preserve and protect the park area.

This drew criticism from Murphy, who said that decision is an interpretive matter, not a matter of law and should be decided by the Planning Commission. “I don’t think it’s even appropriate to ask the county attorney’s office,” he said.

The lighting for the fields will use the latest technology to minimize glare and will point down at the fields, said Davis.

Commissioner Frank de la Fe (Hunter Mill) noted that parks in his district use older lighting technology and it is not a significant problem. The lights are visible, but create little spillover onto nearby properties. “You will always see the lights, but they will not glare into your home,” he said.

However, neighborhoods such as Fedorshik’s, on the opposite side of the field, will be impacted. This led the South County Federation to oppose the proposal, as well.

“If the Park Authority would remove the field from the plans for this area, then the federation would support [it],” said Marty Schirmacher, chair of the federation’s land-use committee.

Not everyone who spoke was opposed to the plan. Linda Byrne an Oakton resident on the board of Fairfax 4 Horses spoke in favor of it, particularly the equestrian center. The center would provide an opportunity for county residents to take up horseback riding, she said reading a prepared statement.

The park is in the Mount Vernon District, and Commissioner John Byers (Mount Vernon) noted that the Park Authority had made several changes to its initial plan in response to resident’s concerns. In the case of the field in question, he noted that the nearest house will be 1,200 feet away, and that the Park Authority had removed one of two planned fields.

“I think this is a very reasonable compromise,” he said.

Wilson praised the plan generally, but noted that she still has concerns about the one field. “I still have my questions about whether it’s in compliance with the plan,” she said. However, she supported the plan, and said she hopes that one issue can be resolved.

The Planning Commission unanimously approved the plan.