Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz is recommending lighting two synthetic turf Williamsburg fields with shielded LED lights that could be dimmed during evening play. He also is recommending other mitigation efforts, such as an on-site field monitor and leaving lights on no later than 9:45 pm, in recognition of community concerns.
Schwartz said his recommendations are based on the acute and growing need for rectangular field playing time in Arlington, and the County’s ability to mitigate what staff believes will be minimal adverse impacts from lighting the field. He will brief relevant County commissions and give the public time to review his recommendations before bringing them to the County Board at its September meeting.
“I appreciate the hard work that the Williamsburg Fields Evaluation Work Group put into assessing the risks and benefits of lighting the Williamsburg fields,” Schwartz said. “Their thoughtful evaluation formed the foundation of my recommendation.
“This was not an easy call, but the County’s policy is that we light synthetic turf fields, and I am convinced, by our experience in lighting other fields in residential neighborhoods, that we can mitigate whatever adverse impacts lights might have,” he said. “Our entire community will benefit from providing more playing time for our growing number of young people who are playing field sports.”
View a slideshow with the Manager’s complete recommendations.
Growing participation in outdoor sports
Youth outdoor sports in Arlington have grown from 15,033 participations in 2011 to 24,326 in 2017 – a 65 percent increase. Eighty percent of the County’s current youth outdoor sports participation is played on a rectangular field, where boys and girls play soccer, ultimate Frisbee, lacrosse, tackle football and flag football. The County expects participation in youth outdoor sports will continue to grow at an average rate of eight percent a year.
Schwartz’s recommendations call for installing six 4500K (Kelvin) lights with a dimming feature on 80-foot poles at the fields, located at 3600 Harrison St, on the Williamsburg Middle School-Discovery Elementary School site. For evening activities, the lights could be dimmed to reduce the impact of glare by 30 percent to 50 percent. The pole height would mitigate light pollution by allowing the fixtures to be aimed directly at the field. Installing 80-foot poles would require a Zoning Ordinance amendment and an amendment to the Use Permit for Williamsburg Middle School and Discovery Elementary Schools’ campus.
Staff assessed potential impacts of lighting, including the impact on nearby homes; public health; traffic and trees. Staff found that the risk of retinitis and glare could be mitigated with proper design and engineering, and that while circadian rhythm disruption is possible, it could be mitigated by initiating a good sleep routine. Staff also found that lighting the fields will have minimal traffic impact – generating an expected 125-150 new vehicle trips each night spread over a 3.5-hour period between 7:30 p.m. and 11 p.m., and that a maximum of three trees could be impacted by the installation of lighting.
MOA with Rock Spring Civic Association recommended
Schwartz is recommending that the County enter into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Rock Spring Civic Association, in which the County would agree to:
- appoint a standing committee to ensure ongoing communication to address operational and maintenance issues;
- commit to lights remaining on no later than 9:45 p.m. – allowing about 2,000 hours of play per year;
- commit to fields being lit only when they are scheduled, and other mitigation measures, while also reducing the number of projected vehicle trips that would occur had the fields been lit until the County 11 p.m. standard.
Schwartz’s recommendation come four months after the Williamsburg Fields Evaluation Work Group, made-up of residents, sports supporters and other stakeholders appointed by the Board in 2015 to study the issue, submitted its final recommendations. The group offered two views – one opposed to installing lights and the other open to light installation on the fields – but offered no single recommendation.