The Prince William Planning Commission has unanimously recommended that the Board of Supervisors deny a special use permit requested by the owners of Combat Sports, a war simulation game, who want to play the games in Gainesville, a largely rural area of western Prince William County.
At least 40 residents who attended a public hearing held by the commission objected to the game because, as one said, "Anything that makes war looks like fun is a disservice to the community." Others opposed the games because, they said, it has the potential of disturbing the quiet, rural atmosphere of the neighborhood. Petitions signed by more than 60 people were presented to the commission. According to one resident, there are currently more than 100 names on the petition that will be presented to the Board of Supervisors when its hearings begin March 5.
The Planning Commission's recommendation went against the planning staff's recommendation that the game be allowed to operate as long as certain rules were followed. The criteria outlined by the planning staff included requests for wide buffers between the game and area residents and liability insurance carried by all participants. The staff reports also requested that the games be played only on weekends during daylight hours, that the area be kept free of noise and trash and that no alcohol be used.
In the civilian-military recreational game, camouflage-clad participants strive to capture an opponent's flag without getting shot with water-soluble, paint-filled gelatine capsules ordinarily used for marking cattle. Its participants argue that it is a healthy outlet for aggression and fantasy.
The main opposition to the games, which ran for two weeks in October under a temporary special use permit, came from Rainbow Christian Services, a foster school for disadvantaged children across from the proposed game site on Artemus Road. According to the school's director, Phil Higgins, the attorney for the facility told the commission that the game could be harmful because some of the children "have a hard time separating fantasy from reality."
"The people who run Combat Sports are very nice," commisision member Ben Chavez said, "and their presentation was very professional. But because of that school across the road it might be better if they went to another part of the county."
Several supervisors say they will probably vote against the game after public hearings are held by the board.
"My mail has been running 100 percent against it," said Gainesville supervisor Tony Guiffre. "The only people that want the game here are the ones that want to play it."
Guiffre said that he had attempted to present Combat Sports' side of the story to his constituents "in the interest of fairness," but only a few that complained to Giuffre were persuaded not to speak out against it at the public hearing, he said. "I told them if they were against Combat Sports, they should be against giving kids any plastic replica of a weapon to play with. That glorifies war and death and pain, too."
Brentsville supervisor Joseph Reading said none of the correspondence he has received has been supportive of Combat Sports. John Jenkins, Neabsco representative, said his mail is running "2 to 1 against the game." If the people turn out for the board's public hearings the way they did for the planning commission, it is unlikely the board will act against the commission's recommendation, the supervisor said.
Said Chavez, "The games are not real recreational. This is a commercial enterprise in which people pay to play. I don't think this is an appropriate area for them."
Guiffre said he told Combat Sports director Mike Kinnally to rally neighborhood support before the board hearings begin. "Otherwise," Guiffre said, "I told him. 'There's no way you're going to win.' "