It would seem an ideal project for a growing county long on new residents and short on sports fields for recreation: The Prince William Park Authority wants to build a $3 million, 125-acre recreation complex in Nokesville that would include four or five softball diamonds and six soccer fields.
Soccer and softball enthusiasts are ecstatic. The county's western end is in desperate need of sports fields, and Prince William officials predict that the demand will explode as nearly 2,500 people move into the new developments springing up along Linton Hall Road.
But few residents of the tiny rural enclave of Nokesville have embraced Valley View Park, which is planned for Crockett Road at Valley View Drive, next to Bristow Manor Golf Course. They're dead set against the park for one main reason--the softball fields would be lighted for night games. They would stay lighted until 11 p.m., and the quiet community says it would face a major intrusion that could change its way of life.
"At first, when we heard about this, we said, 'Great, we need more fields,' " said Patti McKay, who lives on Kettle Run, several miles from the property. "But large lights are a problem. This is not your hot night-light sort of place. It's a really quiet kind of place."
A showdown between park opponents and the Park Authority, which has the support of athletic groups, is likely tonight at a public hearing on the project.
The recreation complex would be built on land donated by Coscan Washington Inc., the developer of Braemar, a 1,000-acre subdivision on Linton Hall Road. Coscan bought the property in 1998 and donated it to the county for a sports facility as part of the process in which developers are asked to donate cash or land toward parks and other services.
In a bond referendum that year, voters approved the $3 million project, one of five recreation projects on the ballot. By its expected completion date of 2005, the complex would include hiking and equestrian trails, a playground, a picnic shelter, a volleyball court and additional soccer fields. The hotly debated first phase would include a concession stand, maintenance building and 800-space parking lot in addition to the soccer and softball fields.
The property is bounded by a golf course on one side and scattered houses to the south and west. Even residents who live several miles away say the lights would give the complex a feeling of intense development they would rather not see in Nokesville, where downtown consists of a post office and less than a handful of businesses.
"You can hear people talking," said Liz Cronauer, president of the Nokesville Civic Association, which opposes the park. "The sound really carries." Not to mention the traffic at night games, she said.
Opponents also say they're disturbed by the unilateral support the lighted fields have received from their representative on the eight-member Park Authority Board, R.B. Thomas. They say Thomas's role as senior commissioner for the Central Virginia Amateur Softball Association is a conflict of interest because he is looking out for the sport rather than the people in his district.
"Right from the beginning, he told us the citizens had voted for the park, so we would get it," said Dennis Hayo, vice president of the Nokesville Civic Association.
Thomas disagrees. "These people have turned a personal attack on me, but I've been their best advocate," he said. "It becomes a 'Not in My Back Yard' issue."
Park Authority officials cannot remember the last time a neighborhood opposed a park as being too much development.
"We've not had major opposition to a park," said Beth Robertson, agency spokeswoman.
She noted that even with 10 parks in the Brentsville District where Valley View is planned, most are small and none has tournament-quality fields. By the authority's calculations of county residents and open space, Prince William has just 11.2 acres of parkland available for every 1,000 residents. The standard for a suburban, semi-rural county is 13.8 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents. Prince William has just a handful of lighted softball fields.
"We're at a serious deficit in terms of how much parkland we should have per person," Robertson said.
Soccer, baseball and softball players have long complained that Prince William, with an estimated 130 fields of varying sizes and quality, cannot keep up with the demand for wildly popular youth and adult leagues.
Several park opponents have suggested that as a compromise, the lighted fields close at 9 p.m. instead of 11 p.m. But supporters say they might as well forget the lights in that case.
"There is no such thing as a lighted field if you close at 9 o'clock," said Lester Leonard, president of the Western Prince William Sports Association, which represents 12 adult softball leagues. Many players work in the District and are hard pressed to get to weeknight games by 6 p.m., he said. And most league games are played on weeknights.
"This is a beautiful site for a park," Leonard said. "Some of these people who are complaining live two miles away. The lights are not going to go into these people's houses."
Robertson said "no decision has been made" on the softball fields' closing time.
A consultant hired by the Park Authority is expected to unveil several plans for the park's first phase tonight. All include lighted softball fields, Robertson said.
She noted that voters in the Brentsville District approved a Nokesville park by 60 percent in 1998. But opponents point out that the ballot question made no mention of lighted softball fields. That level of detail was left to the fine print of brochures describing the project and several public meetings the Park Authority held in the neighborhood before the referendum, Robertson said.