Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

clark-fcnpWhile voters pondered the globally portentous, certain Arlingtonians channeled their passions to more local concerns. The county’s ongoing remaking of the athletic fields of my youth has polarized two communities.

One imbroglio involves a three-year-old dispute over whether to install nighttime lighting for two new synthetic turf soccer fields at Williamsburg Middle School/Discovery Elementary School. The other puzzle is whether to include a possibly disruptive outfield fence on the renovated baseball field at Bluemont Park.

Both dustups brought out the intricate research and late-night-meetings rhetoric of the famous Arlington Way.

For the currently daytime-only soccer fields, a Williamsburg Field Evaluation Work Group delivered a public presentation Nov. 2. It showed off arguments from the Arlington Soccer Association (whose Twitter hashtags include “PutUPTheLights” and “GlowInTheDarkPlayers?”) That group’s sample letter to the county board argues for maximizing investment in artificial turf by “increasing play-space capacity via lighting the fields, and recognizing the positive impact on sports participants by enabling more play time.” They promise “mitigating impacts on the neighbors.”

Nearby residents who value quiet evening walks countered with elaborate illustrated displays. They described their neighborhood as a delicate natural ecosystem that should be protected from noise pollution and glare. “The topography surrounding WMS increases the number of neighbors affected by the field lights for one-fourth to one-half of a mile around,” one poster said. They warned of children’s sleep loss, high blood pressure and diminished productivity, imploring the county to stick with the land use plan they say protects “historically dark and quiet neighborhoods.”

Neighbor Gail Harrison told me the neighbors felt they had a deal with the planners for no lights after the new Discovery School was plopped in their neck of the woods. But the working group won’t finalize its report to the park commissions until December, and the board has until February to decide. (Note: when neighbors near O’Connell High School protested a plan for nighttime lights in 2011, the board backed them.)

Over in central Arlington, baseball enthusiasts and many neighbors are excited about current renovation of a field to better drain standing water. Along with new backstops and benches was the plan for an outfield fence slashing across the park. John Foti, representing the Arlington Youth Baseball Community, wrote a letter arguing that youth baseball has grown as rapidly as the county’s school-age population, rising from 2,400 8-12-year-old participants seven years ago to a current 3,600. “Overuse” of Bluemont No. 3 damaged the field and forced cancellation of games, he said.

But others—interested in Frisbee, lacrosse, sledding and picnics–blasted the county for spending money on that protective fence for a seasonal sport rather than on traffic abatement. The plan was not clearly described when approved, they argued. “Sadly, the county willfully ignored the residents and their constituents,” I was told by Victoria Nguyen of the Boulevard Manor neighborhood. “The lack of transparency with the neighborhoods adjacent to the field and quick award of the contract are behaviors [of those with] less than ethical and moral character.”

In this case, the Arlington Way paid off. A compromise was reached, with final approval expected this week: 162 linear feet of the fence will be removed along the first and third baselines and its outfield height trimmed, Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz said.

Popular sports for kids, peaceful green parks: competing Arlington virtues.

***

Count me among the 30,000 weekly listeners to WAMU-FM’s lovely and vintage “Bluegrass Country.” That staple of the public station since 1967—which can be heard at 105.5 radio—is on the chopping block due to a lack of interest among millennials.

A proposal to take it over from the Bluegrass Country Foundation is being considered this week by WAMU powers that be. Randy Barrett, the Falls Church-based president of the D.C. Bluegrass Union (which promotes the genre through concerts), told me folks have raised nearly $100,000. He recently appeared on Arlington’s WERA-FM to harmonize support.

Keep those claw-hammers picking!

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