A dispute is brewing in a Reston neighborhood over whether lighted ballfields should be included in a community park.
The park, to be on Fox Mill Road just off of the Fairfax County Parkway, has been in the planning stages for several years. Neighborhood residents are in agreement that the project at Stratton Woods Park, which will include a picnic area, a playground, trails, tennis courts and athletic fields, is badly needed. The Hunter Mill district is one of the most under-served in the county in terms of parks and recreational facilities.
But residents of nearby homes object to putting lights on two planned baseball fields, while youth sports officials and other residents of the area say the fields won't do much good if they can't be used after dark.
The issue will be decided next month when the Fairfax County Park Authority board votes on a final plan. Construction of the park is scheduled to begin in 2004.
"There is no question that we need more fields in Fairfax County, and lighting extends the use we can get out of fields because you can play longer," said board Chairman Frank De la Fe, who is undecided at this point. "At the same time, we have to take into consideration the quality of life of the neighbors. It is a difficult decision."
Residents of the nearby Polo Fields subdivision say they've already compromised by agreeing to have baseball fields in the park. Installing lights on the fields is going too far, they say, arguing that noise and traffic from night games would disrupt their sleep and that the lights' glare would make the community less attractive.
There are more than 5,600 households within a 1 1/2-mile radius of the park site. Sixty percent of the households include children.
"We knew that a park was going to go in at some point, but we always assumed it would be a community park with picnic tables and trails," said Al Goncer, whose back yard is adjacent to the park site. "What it looks like now is that it's turning into a bunch of competition fields. The thing that is really bothersome is the lights."
But proponents of lighted ballfields say the area is woefully short of such facilities. A county survey found that the area has only 30 percent of the baseball diamonds it needs for players 12 and younger--fields with 60-foot baselines--and only 15 percent of the fields it needs for players in the Babe Ruth and high school leagues, which use 90-foot baselines.
Currently, the Hunter Mill district has only two lighted county fields for the younger players--both at Fox Mill District Park--and none for the older group. Older players must go to Herndon and Chantilly to play night baseball.
Athletic league officials say it would be a waste to build ballfields without lights. On weekdays, most Little League games and practices start about 6 or 6:30 p.m., allowing time for parents to get home from work and shuttle their children to the fields. During the winter and much of the spring and fall, games that start at that hour can't be completed before darkness falls.
"The situation is critical," said Larry Taylor, president of Reston/Herndon Little League, which has about 800 youngsters playing on 60 teams. "This is for the kids."
Taylor said that before the fields at Fox Mill District Park were built, residents of nearby homes had objections similar to those now being heard from Polo Fields residents. The Fox Mill residents found their concerns were unwarranted, he said. Youth leagues agreed that the lights would be shut off by 10 p.m.--the same rule that would apply at Stratton Woods Park.
"It's rare games last that late anyway," Taylor said. "Kids have to go to school, and parents have to go to work." He also said that the fields would be used only by youth leagues, not by adults.
Responding to residents' concerns about glare, Taylor said that the lights now used on ballfields are directional and light only the fields, not the surrounding area.
Residents of the neighborhood say they agree that Reston needs more lighted fields that but their neighborhood isn't the place for it.
"Yes, there is an acute shortage of fields, which we sympathize with, but you're talking about a densely residential area. The two are just not compatible," said Jeff Weise, president of the Polo Fields Citizens Association.
A task force appointed by Supervisor Robert B. Dix Jr. (R-Hunter Mill) to come up with a plan for the park has recommended that the two baseball diamonds--one 60-foot and one 90-foot--be built without lights. The group included residents of the area and representatives from athletic associations.
But several speakers at a recent public hearing before the Park Authority urged that lights be added, and Dix himself spoke in favor of lighting the 90-foot field, angering some residents.
"I was absolutely flabbergasted that he stood up in a public hearing and went against his own task force's recommendation," said resident Lee Anne Layden, who believes that night games would mean lost sleep for her three young children, who are in bed by 8 p.m.
But Dix said his job is to represent the needs of his entire district, not just the homeowners living near the fields.
"While I certainly appreciate their position, my job is to look beyond the concerns of the immediate neighborhood and do what's best for the community as a whole," he said.
The county will continue to receive written public comments about the plan through June 24.
CAPTION: Neighbors of Stratton Woods Park talk about lighted baseball fields proposed there. They are Joe Speetjens, left, Joe Speetjens III, Amy Speetjens, Al Goncer, Ayla Goncer, Michele Cohen, David Cohen and Lindsey Cohen.