Owners of Combat Sports Inc., who last week were denied a request by the Prince William County Board of Supervisors to play a civilian war game in rural Gainesville, have said they will look for another place in the county to hold their games.
The decision came near midnight, after the board had listened to 30 persons testify for and against the game, which would have been located on Artemus Road on a 150-acre tract of heavily wooded land in an agriculturally zoned area.
In February the planning commission unanimously recommended denial of the special use request. But the planning staff, listing several conditions under which the game would operate, recommended approval of the permit. The conditions included a liability insurance policy for participants, a 300-foot buffer zone around the perimeter of the property, with 450-foot buffer zones between the game area and homes that back onto the property, and weekend games only, with hours not to exceed 9 a.m. to one half-hour before sunset. No more than 50 persons would be allowed to play at any one time, the staff recommendation said.
In a surprise move, Gainesville Supervisor Tony Guiffre made the motion to deny the request after a short speech in which he said he had played the game with his son twice and found it "harmless fun, no different than a game of tennis or chess."
Responding to statements by several residents that they were bothered by the noise of shots from the Nel-Spot .007 paint pellet handguns and the shouting of participants, Guiffre said that he and part owner of Combat Sports, Mike Kinnally, found that "no noise permeated the boundaries of the game area."
Said Guiffre, "This is the most controversial issue in my district since I've been on the board. But in spite of what some of the speakers have said tonight, this is not a moral issue -- this is a neighborhood issue. Since none of the people supporting the game actually live in the area where the game would be played, I recommend denial." The vote to deny approval was 5 to 2, with Chairman Rick Pfitzner and Supervisor Don Kidwell voting for approval and Kathleen Seefeldt absent.
In the war simulation game, camouflage-clad participants strive to capture an opponent's flag without getting shot with the water-soluble gelatine capsules, which are ordinarily used for marking cattle. Its supporters argue that the game is a healthy outlet for aggression and fantasy, calling it a grown-up version of "Capture the Flag" or "Hide-and-Seek." The game ran for two weeks in October under a temporary permit to give residents an opportunity to make a decision based on the evidence, Kinnally said.
Opposition to the game was organized by Philip Higgins, executive director of Rainbow Christian Services, a foster care home for disturbed children that is located across from the proposed game site on Artemus Road. Higgins said that many of his charges come from environments where hostility and violence were seen as a way to solve problems. He believes, he said, that war games could be a negative influence on the children.
Higgins' attorney Gerald Williams told the board that the game was a commercial venture not permitted in an agricultural area under the county's special use ordinance. Testimony from residents ranged from the practical -- "We can hear the noise and we want our weekends to be quiet," to the emotional -- "The Constitution guarantees domestic tranquility; we must ensure that for these Rainbow School children."
After the vote, Guiffre congratulated Kinnally and game attorney Roger Collins, saying, "You fought a good fight."
Said Kinnally, "The fight isn't over. We'll search until we find open land in Prince Willian County -- and then we'll be back." He intends to begin his search in the Bull Run area, which is also in Guiffre's district.
Pfitzner said he voted for approval because, "Ironically enough Tony's argument convinced me. This is a land-use issue and the game seems like an appropriate use of this land." He was surprised, Pfitzner said, at Guiffre's recommendation of denial.
"If I were the owner of that land," the chairman said, "I'd get it rezoned rural residential and I'll bet these same people would be in here complaining about that."