A battle has been taking place in Lee District for the past several months over a plan to install lights for two of Clermont Park’s four baseball diamonds, as well as the park’s parking lot.
The proposal, first brought to Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay’s attention a year and a half ago by members of the Pioneer Baseball League, would enable area youth baseball and softball players more time for games and practices at the Franconia Road park. Some local residents, however, are concerned with the plan and feel their voices were neither properly sought nor heard throughout the planning process.
So last Thursday night at Clermont Elementary School, more than 100 residents gathered for an additional public meeting on the Clermont Park Master Plan Revision. Lee District Supervisor and Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman-elect Jeff McKay opened the meeting and acknowledged the contentiousness of the issue — which would quickly become evident when some audience members began shouting their disapproval of the process.
McKay also noted the complexity of the issue, and emphasized that what the Board of Supervisors will actually be voting on at their December 3 meeting is the removal of a deed restriction that was placed on Clermont Park when ownership of the park was transferred to the Fairfax County Park Authority in 2007. The need for the Board to become involved in this process stems solely from the presence of this deed restriction, which expressly prohibits lighting at the park.
“Deed restrictions are very unusual. In fact, I’m not aware of another one that exists on park property anywhere in the district,” McKay said.
Should the Board vote to remove the deed restriction, the final decision on the potential upgrade of Clermont Park would then fall under the jurisdiction of the Park Authority.
Thursday’s meeting was held to accommodate the burgeoning interest on both sides of the issue. Much of the information and presentation were repeats from the previous public information meeting that was held on July 25, but that meeting only attracted approximately 30 attendees.
But since that time the issue has become the subject of heated Nextdoor.com threads, and both pro-light and anti-light websites have been created. Some 284 comments were submitted to the Park Authority, with 55 percent of those against the lights and 45 percent in favor.
Many in attendance on Thursday complained that the county had done a poor job of outreach to the neighborhoods surrounding Clermont Park. A sizable portion of the ill will of the anti-light citizens was reserved for the Fairfax County officials, who they feel have not been honest with them throughout this process.
“This whole process, going back to last year, started out ‘the answer is lights, let’s figure out a master plan around that.’” said Owen Clarke, who has led the resistance to the lights. “The answer is lights has always been the driver for this and it hasn’t been a rational approach.”
In addition to concerns about the lighting project itself, residents opposed to the lights cited potential negative effects on property values, increased traffic on Franconia Road, and environmental damage. Some in the crowd interrupted county officials with statements like “the process is biased” and “who benefits from this?”
“We’ve been given no answers and no other options,” said one attendee, who declined to give his name.
One of the most sharply disputed points at the meeting was the potential effect the lights would have on nearby property values.
“There was nothing that we were able to look at that indicated a difference between lighted or unlighted fields,” said Pat Rosend, project manager for Park Authority.
That statement was met with loud sounds of derision and disbelief by many in the audience. Speakers from the pro-light camp maintained that the lighting would have a positive effect on property values, as they will add value to the neighborhood for families with kids.
Ed Archer, Administrative VP of Pioneer Baseball League, spoke in favor of adding the lights, noting that the league would “trust the process” and said he belived the Board of Supervisors and Park Authority would make the right decision for Fairfax County.
“All the fields I played on as a child in the 1980’s look the same now … I’m hoping to leave our parks in a better situation for our kids,” Archer said.
A young softball player also spoke in favor of the lights, telling the audience how the sport has been an important part of her life, and that “for kids, making memories is more important than the possibility that some possums could die,” which garnered a round of applause.
By the end of the meeting, after both sides had their say and the crowd started shuffling out to their parked cars, everyone seemed to be in agreement that sports are good for kids, but the needs of the local residents who will have to live with the increased traffic, noise, and light pollution should be paid closer attention to as well.
“It was a good discussion, both sides were well represented,” said Clermont resident Carol Pixa. “The county needs to come up with a solution to the problems ‘active parks’ cause their surrounding neighborhoods.”
More information on the Clermont Park Master Plan Revision Process, including public comments both for and against the addition of lights, can be found here.
Mike O’Neill is a freelance writer and three-time cancer survivor who lives in the Kingstowne section of Lee District.