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Soccer Field or Nature Conservancy?

More residents speak out against ball field proposal, Council continues discussion without addressing their concerns.

Residents told city councilmembers that a green stretch of land along Route 50 could be an outdoor laboratory for the local high school and college students, rather than a soccer field for the children of the Fairfax Police Youth Club.

They envision a nature classroom to protect and utilize the wetlands. Instead of a parking lot and active recreational use for the land, Cambridge Station and Mosby Woods residents want the city to turn it into a sanctuary. A resident at the Tuesday, April 24 public hearing compared the parcel of land, known as the Stafford West property, to Burke Lake Park. It was a stretch, but nearby residents generally agree that the City Fairfax needs to save some of its quality open spaces, not turn them all into active recreational parks.

"There’s nothing like it left in the city," said Veronique Klimonda, a Cambridge Station resident, after the Tuesday, May 22, meeting.

Residents want councilmembers to use their imaginations. Mary Banks, a Cambridge Station resident, said the city should give its children the opportunity to learn about and appreciate nature. She said that a group of residents with "no particular area of expertise" on the issue were able to think of several uses for the property that would preserve the land, rather than exploit it.

"Let’s do something to make Fairfax City a destination for more than soccer moms," she said. "There is really no other property in the city that has the opportunity to enrich the city."

Duane Murphy, of the Friends of Accotink Creek group, said the ball field proposal has the potential to cause severe damage to the streams that lead into the creek, and eventually the Potomac River. Construction of the field on the wooded land would mean increased runoff, the spread of invasive plant species and a loss of tree cover and native species, he said. Overwhelmed streams throughout the region are already forced to act as storm drains, so the city should do its part to mitigate that, he said.

"Our already compromised streams are in no condition to continue to be further compromised," said Murphy. "Our streams are drowning; we are drowning them with inadequate water management."

SEVERAL RESIDENTS mentioned the idea of the outdoor classroom or sanctuary for city residents and students to use, but councilmembers did not discuss that option when the work session began later in the evening. Instead, they asked Parks and Recreation Director Mike McCarty about the cost estimates for adding lights to the park — an option that councilmembers previously agreed would be left off the table. They also discussed the border of trees between the park and the residential neighborhoods. The lack of adequate tree buffers that would be left on the land is what made the council decide to eliminate one field from the two-field proposal last month.

But when Mayor Robert Lederer recently walked the land again, he saw more confusion about which marked trees were going to be removed. Lederer suggested the city have a public outreach meeting within the next week that would also take attendees up to the site via a CUE bus, in addition to the several public outreach meetings planned between now and the June 12 public hearing and decision. Councilmember Jeff Greenfield asked that city staff use large sandwich board signs, rather than the flimsy 8.5 x 11 sheets of paper that were practically invisible to passersby during the previous public outreach period.

"It should be obvious [which trees would be affected] when we go out there together," said Lederer.

McCarty said, tentatively, that six trees on the northwest corner of the field would have to go. All six trees are more than 12 inches in diameter, he said, but four of them have significant splits in them already.

BUT CLEARING TREES of any kind just isn’t suitable to the Cambridge Stations and Mosby Woods residents who were at the May 22 meeting. Elizabeth Gee, director of the Cambridge Station homeowner’s association, said the community is opposed to any form of active recreational development on the site, because of environmental reasons.

Ed Acker, a LEED — or green building — certified architect and a Cambridge Station HOA board member, told council its cost estimates for the clearing of the land and the replacement of the wetland areas were a little too conservative.

"If you take out that wetland area, you have to replace it under federal law; you can’t just wipe it out," he said. "I suggest you get some realistic cost estimates [for mitigation] and proceed on that basis."

He said he also had doubts that the reduction in one of the fields and the lighting would only result in $1,000 in savings. The costs associated with the estimates include building one synthetic turf field at Stafford, another turf field with lights at Draper Park and improvements to Green Acres, Westmore, Providence Park and Providence Elementary. Taking one of the fields out of the Stafford proposal didn’t result in a huge reduction, said McCarty, because in doing that, the city cannot use fill from that land to improve the Green Acres park. The loss of the one Stafford field also means building a turf field at Draper with lights, which is another costly addition to the proposal.