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Soccer Parents vs. Neighbors in Latest Lighting Battle

By ARLnow.com - ARLNow.com

Wednesday - 5/15/2013, 2:00pm  ET

Design of new Williamsburg elementary schoolParents of Arlington youth soccer players and residents who live near Williamsburg Middle School have created dueling petitions — for and against a proposal to install lighting and new soccer fields at the school.

The field and lighting proposal was floated as an optional part of the Arlington Public Schools plan to build a new elementary school on the Williamsburg Middle School campus. The design of the school was approved in February and construction is expected to begin next year.

The proposal involves the construction of two synthetic turf fields next to the school, with lighting installed for the field farthest from the surrounding neighborhood. Arlington Public Schools spokesman Frank Bellavia says the school system currently doesn’t have the money necessary for the synthetic fields and lighting — about $2 million — so supporters are hoping to convince Arlington County to pay for the project.

A group of neighbors, however, has created a Change.org petition calling for the County Board to nix the field lighting component.

Williamsburg elementary school field plans“We, as registered voters in Arlington County, strongly oppose the installation of sport field lighting on any of the soccer fields on the Williamsburg Middle/Elementary school property,” the petition says. “The neighborhood surrounding Williamsburg will be heavily impacted by evening traffic, light intrusion, noise and parking impacts.”

So far, the neighbors’ petition has attracted 125 online signatures.

The Arlington Soccer Association, meanwhile, has created its own Change.org petition, which has gathered 1,085 signatures so far. The association says the fields, and the lighting, will help meet growing demand for youth soccer in Arlington.

“We, the undersigned, support placing a lighted synthetic rectangular athletic field on the grounds of Williamsburg Middle School,” the petition says. “The Arlington Department of Parks and Recreation estimates that a lighted synthetic field can sustain five times the overall use of an unlighted grass field.”

Williamsburg elementary school field plans“We are sensitive to the concerns of the local community,” the petition continues. “We believe that a lighted field at WMS should be limited to youth sports programming and have a curfew of 9:30 p.m.”

The fight is similar to the acrimonious battle over lighting proposed for the Bishop O’Connell High School baseball and football fields. After nearly 75 speakers weighed in on the O’Connell lighting proposal at a County Board meeting in 2011, the Board rejected the plan,

Before any possible County Board consideration, the Arlington Soccer Association is hoping to convince neighbors that a lighted field will not result in the light pollution, noise and traffic that many fear. The group wrote the following letter (after the jump) as a response to concerns expressed on the email listserv of a local civic association.

When discussions about sports fields and the lighting of sports fields come up, certain topics usually arise. With regard to the development of fields supporting the school development at Williamsburg, here are some of those topics and responses from the Arlington Soccer Association (ASA) for your consideration.

Generally, sports field lighting is opposed by local communities due to the notion that lighting = nighttime use of the fields = noise and bother for the local community. The phrase “property values will decrease” is often thrown around as if lighting is a de facto property value depressant. There may be cases where that is true, especially those with no special considerations in place to protect the local community. Arlington Soccer believes that, with proper controls in place, lighting one of the new fields at Williamsburg will have a positive, not negative, effect on the local community. ASA suspects that, as is the case near Washington-Lee and Yorktown high schools (where fields support nighttime youth and adult sports activities), property values in the Williamsburg school area will be supported and likely will rise while the residents’ quality of life will also improve.

First, Arlington Soccer recommends that the programmed use of the fields at Williamsburg be limited to youth sports groups; no adult groups should be programmed there. Related to this point is the recommendation that field use be cut off at 9:30pm. Most lighted fields in Arlington are open until 11pm and are used heavily in the later hours by adult sports groups. These considerations are suggested to help the local community maintain its quality of life while managing to address field use needs for a variety of youth sports groups.

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