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Let’s Play Ball

Public hearing final round of approvals for ball fields at Stafford West.

After a few curve balls and some strike-outs, the city appears to be moving forward with the ball fields proposed for the Stafford West property.

A 2000 advisory referendum allowed the City Council to raise the real estate property tax over five years for the purchase of open space in the city. An advisory committee formed to identify parcels available for purchase as open space — including the use of open space for recreation purposes, which includes athletic fields, according to the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

“A penny on the tax rate is a very small down payment in our future,” said Mayor Robert Lederer at a Jan. 9 City Council meeting.

The Stafford West property, located behind the Kentucky Fried Chicken and Outback Steakhouse, near the intersection of Route 50 and Stafford Drive, was purchased and immediately identified as a possible ball field location, said Brian Knapp, chairman of the parks and recreation advisory board. In a city with little space left, officials were excited to find a location that could work, he said.

“That’s the only piece of property throughout the city, that I’m aware of, that we could purchase and build fields on,” said Knapp.

City Council has been vocal about the need for more ball fields in the city. Studies completed more than 20 years ago revealed a need for fields, and that was before sports like lacrosse and rugby began to take off. Knapp said an explosion in soccer and little league has occurred since then, so the need for more sports fields is great.

“We will start losing our youth to other leagues if we don’t do this,” said Knapp.

THE CURRENT FIELDS are taxed from overuse and a lack of rest, said Michael McCarty, the city’s parks and recreation director. McCarty began working on the designs for the Stafford project since day one as parks director, he said.

The Mosby Woods community, which backs up to the proposed fields, is divided on the project, according to Ann Laporte, president of the Mosby Woods Community Association. Many of the families in the neighborhood have young children, so they're naturally for it, she said. On the other side, though, are residents who would like to see the land remain undeveloped.

"[The city] definitely needs ball fields," said Laporte. "So that's a very good thing."

Spencer Cake, a Mosby Woods resident who mobilized a group to oppose a proposed condominium development that would have bordered their community, said the city should repair the existing fields.

"If the fields are overutilized, then fix them with turf," he said. "Don't take another piece of open space and convert it into ball fields."

Cake said the resistance in the community is there, but nobody has taken the initiative to organize it and present it to the city.

SINCE THE STAFFORD project has taken up so much of staff's time and energy, other priorities— such as finding a use for Green Acres and building a community center — are waiting on the back burner until Stafford can move forward. McCarty said he's ecstatic that it could happen in just a couple of weeks.

“It allows us to get those projects off the ground by moving this forward,” said McCarty.

The cost of the ball field project at Stafford, which includes expanding the baseball diamond at Providence Elementary to 90-feet and taking some of the materials excavated at Stafford and moving them to Green Acres, is budgeted around $5.7 million, said McCarty. That’s after the Fairfax Police Youth Club (FPYC) makes its contribution, which is about $336,000, paid over eight years.

“We’re very excited about Stafford,” said Becky Heid, president of FPYC. “[The council] has come a long way. For a small city, this is quite a commitment that they’re leaning toward doing.”

THE CONDITION OF the city’s ball fields, which exist in some of the 21 parks throughout the city, are deteriorating because of overuse, said Heid. FPYC uses all of the city’s 28 fields, and some of the county’s. She said a few if those parks are bordering on being unusable this year.

“I always pick on Draper [Drive Park]; it’s the perfect example of fields gone bad,” said Heid. “It’s the desert of the City of Fairfax. It’s so sad.”

McCarty hopes that the Stafford project will allow better upkeep of the city’s other fields, specifically by allowing them to rest. A ball field should rest for an entire sports season about once every three years, he said. Some of the open areas in city parks have also been doubling as fields for what McCarty calls “walk-ons,” people who play games on fields without reserving them.

“Some of the open areas weren’t designed for athletic play,” said McCarty. “Van Dyck is a mess because of the overuse.”

FPYC has 11 sports, including soccer and football, the two sports that would utilize Stafford the most. Soccer is one of the most popular, and it currently uses about 10 of the city’s fields during both the spring and fall seasons. The field shortages affect the high school too, said Heid, not just FPYC.

“Fields are always an ongoing struggle with any club,” said Heid.

THE DESIGN PROCESS has resulted in two synthetic turf soccer fields at Stafford, and the expansion of the baseball diamond at Providence Elementary to a 90-foot diamond with improved lighting. That Providence field will have a 375-foot outfield, which the city currently doesn’t have for recreational use anywhere, said McCarty. The project would be completed in phases, with Stafford and Green Acres happening simultaneously in the first phase. Green Acres would be re-graded and leveled off, improving the quality of the existing field there.

A redesign of the Westmore fields is also part of the plan. Work on those fields would be the last phase of the process, said McCarty, and would include a little league softball field, a midsize soccer field and additional parking.

One detail that has been repeatedly debated in City Council meetings and work sessions is the lighting issue. Stafford will have synthetic turf, which makes year-round play possible.

“Everybody wants to be able to play on that surface, and be able to play all the time,” said Knapp.

But lighting those fields has raised some concerns among community members and councilmembers. Thaiss Memorial Park, on Pickett Road, uses lights and has a cut-off time of 9 p.m., said Knapp. Those lights are just 30-feet from residential neighborhoods, he said, so Stafford should also be able to include lights too.

“At Stafford, the park would be about 200-feet from homes,” said Knapp. “We can turn those lights off at a time designated by the community.”

Right now, the construction process would include installing the foundation for the lights, but not the lights themselves. That is something expected to come up in the discussion at the public hearing, which is tentatively scheduled for Feb. 20.