Parents, Singles Tussle Over Places to Play

Jeffrey Pace, 28, of Fairfax serves during an informal pickup volleyball game on one of three courts in Crystal City that might be turned into tot lots.
Jeffrey Pace, 28, of Fairfax serves during an informal pickup volleyball game on one of three courts in Crystal City that might be turned into tot lots. (Photos By Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)
By Annie Gowen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 8, 2006

When a developer announced plans last summer to raze a public volleyball court in Arlington to build a playground for a new day-care center, Carla Reinisch and other players fought back.

The group of young professionals launched a petition drive on a local Internet networking site. They testified at hearings, reminding county officials that players routinely packed the trio of sandy courts in Crystal City. In the meantime, parents said their neighborhood desperately needed day care.

Proponents of the playground "made it us versus them; it was not volleyball players versus the kids," said Reinisch, 27, of Arlington. "We didn't have anything against the playground. We just didn't want it on top of our volleyball court."

In the end, Arlington County brokered a deal. The tot lot would go in, but to appease the volleyball lobby, the county would build a set of courts in a nearby park.

In the dense inner suburbs -- where there is precious little parkland -- young professionals such as Reinisch are battling with parents over tiny scraps of land no bigger than regulation-size basketball courts. Kids might still need swing sets, the thinking goes, but young adults -- now a sizeable chunk of the population -- want their play space, too.

People 24 to 39 make up a third of the population in Alexandria and Arlington, the largest percentage for that age group in the region, according to census data. The two communities also have the lowest percentage of children younger than 14.

As in the District, which also has a high number of adults without children, many new Arlington and Alexandria residents are young professionals who have moved into sleek condominiums. They have begun expecting recreational amenities tailored to them -- not to families with school-age children.

In Arlington, for example, the county recently relaxed its rules on beverages so library patrons could sip lattes while using its wireless Internet service to surf the Web. And officials are set to launch a program of recreation offerings aimed at twenty- and thirty-somethings.

Alexandria is finishing work on a study that says it has only about two-thirds the athletic fields it needs to satisfy demand; as one result, adult sports aficionados are being squeezed out by youth sports leagues.

"This is a large group of people who are making good salaries, and there are certain things they expect for the taxes they pay," said Judy Guse-Noritake, chairman of Alexandria's Park and Recreation Commission. "One of the things . . . that is important to them is a place to play sports."

Land and practice space is so scarce that recreation departments in both jurisdictions have banned adult softball and other leagues from adding new teams. Arlington's Public Spaces Master Plan even suggests looking for more space on overpasses above roadways such as Interstate 66, in underground parking garages and on rooftops. And the rare bit of land is expensive: The county has paid from $1.5 million to $5 million an acre for park acquisitions in recent months.

"There are limited resources and competing interests," said Arlington Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman (D).

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