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Park Authority OKs Amendment to Cap Unpermitted Users at 20

Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority to host its own public hearing July 21

After two people spoke at Wednesday's public hearing, the Fairfax County Park Authority Board approved  obtain a permit to use county athletic fields.

The board voted 8-2 in favor of the change, with two members — Anthony Vellucci (Braddock) and Kala Leggett Quintana (At-large) — absent from the meeting. Marie Reinsdorf (At-large) and Linwood Gorham (Mount Vernon) dissented.

Before the vote, two members of the community offered their opinions on the amendment.

Suzie Phipps — a soccer mom, soccer manager and soccer coach's wife — opposed the amendment, stating the way her family and neighbors in the Bailey's Elementary School area is "the model of how public areas should be used."

"The field is heavily scheduled with league activities, and when otherwise available, it is thoroughly enjoyed by Bailey's parents, students and others from the local community," Phipps said.

She offered three suggestions for how the Park Authority could solve issues such as intimidation when unpermitted users are asked to yield to permitted users and unpermitted users not contributing to upkeep costs by not purchasing permit: post a permit schedule at each field so unpermitted users know when the fields are unavailable; post contact information for field monitors so it is easier to report those abusing their privileges; and sell individual walk-on permits that would excuse cardholders from the walk-on count. 

"In this way, local users can opt in [by purchasing a walk-on permit], visitors can use the field up to the walk-on limit and illicit league use is still properly addressed," Phipps said.

She suggested fees could model after how much leagues per player, which is $5.50.

After the meeting, Phipps said she thinks the board's decision is "unfortunate and short-sighted."

"If this action has the consequences that many expect, the ruling will certainly be challenged in the future and overturned in favor of something that addresses the real issues of safety, wear and tear on the fields, and misuse by organized leagues," Phipps said.

Lula Bauer, who serves on the Park Authority's soccer committee, spoke at the public hearing in favor of the amendment.

She recounted her efforts since 2004 to reduce the number of unpermitted users allowed on the county's more than 800 athletic fields.

"The only I've ever asked is that we're all treated equally. If we have to pay then everybody has to pay," she told the board. " ... I support bringing the limit down to 20. I wish it was zero, but I'll take it."

Before 2004, the Park Authority allowed up to 75 walk-ons, but lobbying from Bauer and other advocates brought the maximum to 40.

"It's just another step," Bauer said after the meeting. "... I don't think a lot of people understand that the people who are out there 24/7, week in and week out, there's gambling going on there, there's a cell phone league going on there, there's intimidation going on there, and it's countywide."

Because neither of the public hearings speakers said they were completely happy with the proposed solution, Gorham opposed it.

"I came in prepared to support it. ... I was going to go along with it because I truly believed that due diligence had been done for public opinion and that public opinion really supported this," Gorham said. "But now I've just heard two people testify and the one common thing that both of them said was they didn't think this was a good solution."

Gorham clarified he understood Bauer testified in favor of the amendment, but noted she pointed out problems with it, as well.

Reinsdorf said she opposed the amendment because it does not give those unable to join a league any alternative.

"Sure, if we were talking about 75 percent of the fields as long as the people who cannot play within the league system had a place to play, I'd be for it," Reinsdorf said. "... The picture of an empty field and members of the public who want to play who can't get on there unless they want to put in an application in December for next year, it's just a bad picture in this country."

None of the board members who voted in favor of the amendment made a statement.

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.

Bill Sams August 09, 2011 at 03:11 PM
This is a terrible regulation. Neighbors, home owners, children, and young people should be allowed to use these fields and parks when leagues and permit-holders are not using them, and there should be no restriction on numbers. If it's a soccer field then 22 players should be allowed on the field plus friends and family on the sidelines. Certainly permit-holders should have priority. I have never seen a seen a case when a permit-holding organization was not able to takeover a field from a pick-up group. We should all abhor a state that prevents people from using public spaces to play pick-up sports by forcing them to pay extra fees. This is one more slap in the face of healthy recreation and constructive gathering of young people. We the people have paid for the construction of these spaces with our tax dollars. Our tax dollars continue to pay off the bonds. Our children and neighbors should be allowed to use them without paying more. We who participate in sports leagues pay additional fees and raise funds to supplement the upkeep and improve the facilities. This is the way a neighborhood should work. Keep the public spaces public! We must not let special organizations succeed in lobbying for regulations that create a situation of hoarding public property for special use only. That undermines the essence of community. Please speak up and work to remove this unreasonable restriction!

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