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Change to Park Regulations Would Require Permits for Groups of More Than 20 People On Athletic Fields

The Fairfax County Park Authority to hold public hearing Wednesday

Fairfax County boasts more than 800 athletic fields available for community use, according to the Fairfax County Park Authority. At none of them would it be unusual for a team with a permit for the field to arrive and find it already occupied.

On April 6, FCPA recommended changing park regulations in an effort to address “ongoing field abuse, intimidation, and also general disruption of permitted use by unpermitted use.” The amendment to an existing park regulation would require a field permit for any gathering of 20 or more people, including spectators, a reduction from the current 40.

FCPA will hold a public hearing on the proposed change Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in room 941 of the Herrity Building at 12055 Government Center Parkway in Fairfax.

"We were requested by the Athletic Council, who were requested by many organizations who use our fields, to reduce the number of people allowed on them without a permit," FCPA Public Information Officer Judy Pedersen said. "It’s been a lengthy and public process in terms of vetting this."

FCPA accepted email comments on the proposed change through April 25. In the 94 pages of responses that resulted, the overwhelming majority either supported the amendment or advocated allowing even fewer people to congregate without a permit.

Two major themes dominated the thinking of those in favor of a reduction. First, that unpermitted users create wear and tear on the fields without contributing money to their upkeep, as organized groups with field permits do. Second, that permitted groups, particularly youth groups, feel intimidated or threatened when trying to get an unpermitted group to leave.

"This change will also make enforcement a little easier," Pederson said. "We need to encourage 'walk-on' teams to register with Neighborhood and Community Services. And we continue to build more fields. The desire is out there. I'm fairly confident this won't stop families who want to play touch football on our fields. That’s neither the aim nor the result of this regulation."

Eight email respondents, out of more than 100, were against the proposed change. They cited issues of fairness and the spirit of pick-up games.

The rule change would also be adopted by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, which will hold its own public hearing on the matter July 21.

While the regulation governs all FCPA and NVRPA fields, the discussion has focused on soccer. The Fairfax County Athletic Council voted July 21, 2010, to reduce the gathering requiring a permit to 10, "primarily based on a Fairfax County Soccer Council recommendation," according to a Dec. 2, 2010, letter from Athletic Council Director Christopher A. Leonard to FCPA Chair William G. Bouie.

At an April 6 public meeting hosted by the Department of Neighborhood and Community Services, the majority of comments came from representatives of youth soccer leagues. NCS eventually recommended the change to 20. There are 22 players in a standard soccer match.

"There's some applicability of that number to the size of that particular sport," Pedersen said. "We're being responsive to comments from a lot of different quarters. This is a compromise number that was agreeable to the most people. We still have a hearing, and people are welcome to come and speak to the issue."

Pat Cunningham July 13, 2011 at 09:12 PM
@Luis & Mike- a team with a permit who has a one hour practice scheduled will spend the entire hour trying to get on the field if it is not yielded. A group of 20 just doesn't materialize without planning or scheduling, no matter how informal. If you want to play pick up soccer than get a permit and invite your friends. A team having to call the police to chase off a pick up game is a poor use of resources and a lousy argument against the new rule.
Mike McGurrin July 14, 2011 at 12:51 AM
Pat, In my experience, the field is usually yielded. The worst case is a 1 time loss of practice time when a group doesn't yield. Once a non-permitted group knows it's conflicting with a recurring permit and are chased off by a county parks supervisor, they re-plan and don't return at the same time again. It shouldn't and usually doesn't even require that, but that's pretty much the worst case. Also, it doesn't require the police to enforce the rules. The park authority, per their own briefing on this subject, has 27 area supervisors. Also, 1-time use requires a $50 payment AND a roster of team members, recurring permits require larger fees and a roster. Pick-up games are informal with a rolling, ever-changing group of participants. I appreciate that permitted groups contribute to the fields, and organized sports groups often use their own funds to improve fields. They should and do get priority. But there's no reason to bar informal use of unused fields sitting idle, except when they are closed to all users for maintenance, winter recovery or similar reasons,
mdennis74 July 16, 2011 at 04:05 AM
The real issue here is the stated intention of some members of the Athletic Council, in particular Lula Bauer. She has made a public point that she wants the county to adopt a zero-tolerance policy on walkons: nobody, on any field, at any time, for any reason, without a permit. If we start yielding to the athletic council, your friendly family touch-football game will suddenly become an illegal activity. This was done in almost complete secrecy. Only team and club officials were ever notified that a change was in the works, and they have a vested interest on one side of the issue. So, it's no surprise the comments were one-sided.
Bill Sams August 09, 2011 at 02:51 PM
To whom specifically do we complain about this regulation? The permit fees are only a small portion of the construction and maintenance of these fields. Our sales taxes and property taxes fund a major share. Certainly permit-holding groups and leagues deserve priority, but we must not allow a state where groups of neighbors, friends, children, and young people are prohibited via bureaucracy from using fields and parks to play pick-up sports. What better activity can be imagined than that? Should we send these young people back to their living rooms, computers, televisions and street corners rather than have them out getting exercise and having constructive fun? Would this create yet another petty crime that causes conflict with law enforcement officers? They have more important things to do than to ask a group of neighbors and young people if they've paid the fee. Our property taxes fund these parks. If I and my neighbors wish to use them a few times a year when leagues are not using them we certainly deserve to without any additional fees. Everyone, please speak out against this needless increase in red tape and selfish hoarding of community property for special purposes.
Nicole Trifone August 09, 2011 at 03:54 PM
Bill, I suggest you speak to your representative on the Park Authority Board to file an official complaint. I'm not sure which district you live in, so here's the website: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/board/. To figure out who your representative is, click on the names to the left. The chairman is William G. Bouie. They might redirect you elsewhere, but that's my best guess.

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