Ever since city staff presented the Fairfax City Council with several concept plans for the Stafford West ball field proposal, councilmembers have chipped away at the details to decrease the cost, while also trying to fulfill the needs of the ball field shortage in and around the city. Members asked staff to come back again and again with more detailed proposals last year, until the public hearing for the special use permits was finally set for Tuesday, April 24.
When councilmembers toured the site just days before the hearing, though, they realized they had inaccurate perceptions of the proposal, said Mayor Robert Lederer. White tape signifying the ballpark’s perimeter showed that more buffer trees than previously thought would be cut down. Several mature trees, some with trunks more than 30 inches wide, would have to go.
After three hours of public input both for and against the proposal, they postponed a decision again, telling staff to go back to the drawing board one more time.
"Over a very, very long period of time, Council has been grappling with the issue since this property was purchased as open space [in 2004]," said Lederer.
The city bought the Stafford West property — located behind the Outback Steakhouse and KFC, near the intersection of Stafford Drive and Fairfax Boulevard — under the city’s open space initiative approved by voters in 2001. But nearly 30 residents who live in the neighboring Mosby Woods and Cambridge Station communities came out to voice their opposition to the project, citing that the property is one of the few untouched green spaces left in the city. Many claimed their vote for the tax increase in 2001 was so the city could purchase land for open space conservation or preservation, not recreation.
"Perception is the greater part of reality," said Veronique Klimonda, a Cambridge Station resident.
Klimonda said her community was kept in the dark and she blamed City Council and city staff for not properly advertising the Stafford proposal. Her neighbor, Ellyn Pence, said the community did not know about the proposed project until Councilmember Gary Rasmussen, who is also a Mosby Woods resident, sent out a letter to his neighborhood just one week before the April 24 public hearing.
"I had no idea what you people were up to," said Pence.
THE CITY COUNCIL has openly discussed it at several public meetings that were televised throughout the past year, however, in addition to posting it on the city’s Web page. Councilmember Scott Silverthorne pointed out that state laws require a certain amount of public outreach, all of which the city had met, he said. The Fairfax Connection, The Fairfax Times and the Fairfax Extra section of the Washington Post each published several stories about the project throughout the last year as well.
"It’s been brought up and brought up," said Gary Perryman, president of the Westmore Citizens Association. "To say they were blindsided; it’s because they haven’t bothered to be involved up until this point."
Perryman knows the subject well because he attends just about every City Council meeting. If he can’t make it, which rarely happens, another Westmore community member almost always shows up in his place so they can report back to the rest of the community on what’s happening in the city. Some members show up whether Perryman is there or not, but City Council chambers are otherwise sparsely attended, unless a big issue is at stake.
"This issue is not new," said Perryman. "We’ve discussed it for the last two years at City Council [meetings]."
MEMBERS OF the Fairfax Police Youth Club, or FPYC, spoke out in favor of the project. The city’s fields are overused, thus they cannot be properly maintained, according to previous work session presentations by McCarty. The city, county and FPYC are struggling to meet the field needs of residents, said Becky Heid, president of FPYC. The Stafford property is a "golden opportunity," she said.
Heid said FPYC would be happy with the alternative discussed by councilmembers in the hours leading up to the April 24 public hearing, as did at least five others who spoke at the public hearing. Lederer said at the beginning of the meeting that the council would consider constructing one rectangular field at Stafford, instead of the two proposed, in order to save the tree buffers around the perimeter of the property. Instead of lights at Stafford, the council would consider installing lights at Draper Park, just off Beech Drive. Council would also consider replacing the field there with synthetic turf along with the installation of a security fence around the perimeter.
The City Council voted to continue the public hearing on the issue at its Tuesday, June 12 meeting. Staff will have the details surrounding the new concept plan for Stafford and Draper Park in time for the May meeting. Lederer stressed that the details would be worked out later, and that the concept they instructed staff to draft would "just be a framework." Preliminarily speaking, Michael McCarty, the city’s parks and recreation director, said the new one-field concept would cost about $2.6 million, plus another million for the Draper Park improvements.
The packed public hearing echoed a similar public hearing last August when several Mosby Woods residents opposed a condominium project on an adjacent piece of property referred to as Rocky Gorge. They claimed the city was gobbling up all of its remaining green space for development.
John Toner, who lives off University Drive, said the outpour of opposition to the ball fields from Mosby Woods was just another "not in my backyard" scenario from "the independent republic of Mosby Woods."
But a few residents rejected the idea that the Mosby Woods and Cambridge Station communities were being selfish. The green space they want to protect would benefit the entire city, not just their communities, they said.
"It’s not ours, it’s the city’s; you can come anytime," said Debbie Frodigh, a Cambridge Station resident. "It’s an oasis."