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Left in the Dark?

Proposal to include turf, lighting at Draper Park remains mystery to Providence supervisor.

While Mosby Woods and Cambridge Station residents have spoken out mostly in opposition to the ball-field park proposed for their neighborhood, county residents near Draper Park are still unaware that field lights and turf could be added to the park, located in their backyard.

"I think we need to get more information from the city," said Supervisor Linda Smyth (D-Providence).

As of Tuesday, May 1, Smyth still did not know that the City of Fairfax proposed the Draper Park improvements at the last City Council meeting a week earlier. Mayor Robert Lederer said the city would be doing a lot of outreach in the coming weeks, including outreach to the county and Smyth’s office.

"I know they will be notified of the project," he said.

At the public hearing, Tuesday, April 24, about 50 city residents came to both support and oppose ball fields proposed for the Stafford West property, Councilmembers asked city staff to draft preliminary plans that would reduce the size and scale of the Stafford Park by offsetting it with improvements at Draper Park.

"What we’re really doing is enhancing the park," said Councilmember Scott Silverthorne.

Those improvements would include lights, turf and a fence around the perimeter of the two rectangular fields there. Lights and turf are some of the concerns that Mosby Woods and Cambridge Station residents had about the Stafford park, in addition to concerns about the loss of trees and green space. Lights and turf would mean more games and later hours of operation, since the fields would be usable at night and would have less wear and tear since turf is so durable.

"The lights are more conducive to [Draper] park, because of the area," said Michael McCarty, the city’s parks and recreation director. "It’s industrial; it’s closer to Fairfax Boulevard."

The Draper Park improvements have been in the city’s capital plan for at least three years, said McCarty. When the city ran into some issues with the Stafford property — mainly, the need to cut down more trees than it originally planned — they decided to look at putting the Draper project on a faster pace, he said.

"This would allowed scheduled play, controlled play, safe play," said McCarty. "We won’t schedule something if its dark, but we know [night play is] happening there. Lights would make it safer activity."

PART OF THE Stafford proposal includes improvements to three other city parks, making it four with the addition of Draper. Providence Park is slated to get a 90-foot baseball diamond that would fit on top of one of the softball fields already there. Green Acres’ usable field space would be expanded, said McCarty, to two midsize rectangular fields and a softball field. The Westmore fields, at the former Westmore School now rented by the Northern Virginia Christian Academy, would get a softball field and a rectangular field. But out of all five parks, including the Stafford park, lighting and turf would work best at Draper, said McCarty.

Westmore is right in the middle of a single-family community, said Lederer. Since several Fairfax High School teams use Draper Park, as well as the Fairfax Police Youth Club, it’s time to fix up those fields, said McCarty. He said the city has to replace the sod there as often as twice a year or more, so the overuse is really becoming an issue.

"Probably 60 percent of FPYC come from the county," said Silverthorne. "County and city residents will benefit from this."

When synthetic turf replaces sod at any field, the lights usually come with it. Lederer said the City Council never intended to put lights at Stafford, even though they would have had a majority vote to include the conduits for lights in the construction process so a future council could decide to add the lighting.

"When you do the artificial turf, you have to dig up and build a whole drainage system," said Lederer. "It’s easy to do lights at same time."

McCarty said the city would obviously impose regulations on the hours of operation at the park, as it has done for all city parks with lights, in order to appease and respect nearby residents. Thaiss Park, a city park that also borders county homes, has regulated hours that seem to please the nearby residents, he said.

Smyth is not sure about the lights yet because the city hasn’t yet given her any information.

"There’s lighting, and then there’s lighting," she said.

The Yorkville Cooperative Condominiums, a low-income condominium development located in the county, are less than 100-feet from Draper Park. A call to the Yorkville manager was not returned by the time the Connection went to press.

McCarty is working with the engineers and architects to figure out the cost estimate and logistics of the project, and said the outreach should begin as soon as he has that information.

But Smyth said she would want the Fairfax County Park Authority to look into the project to obtain more information as well. Then she would have the park authority and the county executive meet with the city before hosting her own public outreach to county residents.

"We would of course bring the information back to the residents," said Smyth.