Wanted: Friendly Neighbors

Wanted: Friendly Neighbors

Changes to Lee District Park highlight struggle for playing fields and neighbor's concerns about bright lights.

Following a public hearing about the redevelopment of Lee District Park, Doug Boulter doesn't want to see light at the end of his tunnel.

"After the first meeting, we thought our concerns were heard," said Boulter, president of the Virginia Hills Citizens Association. "Then we come back to this meeting and the plan is even worse."

The Fairfax County Park Authority held the second of two public hearings regarding changes to Lee District Park on Wednesday, March 15, during which a plan to create six playing fields out of three overlay fields and light them all was unveiled.

One street in Virginia Hills stretches along the back of the park, near one of the fields. Boulter said his whole community is concerned about the impact of bright lights shining in their community, creating "the Fourth of July 270 nights a year."

"It would be one thing if it were only a matter of the youth teams playing until 9 p.m., but there are other concerns, of the lights and the traffic," Boulter said.

The park, located on 138 acres off Telegraph Road in Franconia, is in the middle of the Virginia Hills and Rose Hill neighborhoods, something Boulter said makes for a tricky situation.

"There are no major arteries into or out of the park, so every car that goes to the park will have to be on the same road," he said. Traffic along Telegraph Road is "already a problem until 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. every day," and adding night games for youth or adult sports leagues would only make traffic worse, Boulter said.

IN ADDITION, he expects the increased parking included in the plan wouldn't be enough for the sporting events if all the fields were in use at the same time.

Ideally, Boulter would like to see the Park Authority light only one field, as far away from the homes as possible, to allow residents and sports teams alike to "see how things go" before lighting all six of the fields.

"The residents of McLean were unhappy when they put lights on one field in Lewinsville park," Boulter said about a neighborhood park in McLean. "That was just one field, we'd have six."

There is a shortage of athletic fields for youth leagues, said James Lucero, president of Pioneer Baseball, which calls Lee District Park its home for more than 700 children each year, so the addition of six fields to the county's resources just makes sense.

"This is the best use of the county's land," he said.

As a volunteer organization, Pioneer Baseball is often "relegated to fields that are less than adequate. Some of the fields are in very poor shape, so I think it's great they want to separate out the fields."

Lucero said he was happy with the plan presented by the Park Authority, but hopes that the final draft will include more specific language about how the fields will be separated and maintained.

"I'd like to see more about the quality of the fields," he said. "There's nothing in the plan right now about putting up fences, which would help protect the quality of the fields and might require people to have a key before they can be used."

While he said he understands concerns about having lights on the fields, Lucero said the technology currently available would eliminate most of the light pollution some residents fear would affect their homes.

He hopes that people who might not be in favor of the proposed changes to the park will remember that the children who play there live in the same neighborhoods.

"It's not like we're busing in kids with clubs from some bad area," Lucero said. "Our kids are between five and 15-years old. We are the residents."

ABOUT 40 RESIDENTS and representatives from sports leagues attended the hearing, said Judy Pedersen, public information officer for the Park Authority.

"The division was very much members of the community and people from the sports teams," Pedersen said of the 10 speakers at the hearing. "I think everyone conducted themselves very well and got their point across."

Andrea Dorlester, who was recently appointed project manager for the park's redesign, said the main difference between the plan presented last week and how the park currently looks is the change in ball fields.

"Currently, there are three overlay fields, meaning they can be used as baseball diamonds or larger rectangular fields," Dorlester said. "The new plan separates the fields and create three diamonds and three rectangular fields. All six of them would have lights," she said.

While residents are invited to make comments on the proposed changes to the park until Monday, April 17, a decision is expected to be made when the Park Authority Board meets in May, Dorlester said.