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Lighting Franklin Park

14 February 2007

Dear Neighbors,

I have received a number of questions and comments to my response to your emails about placing lights on Franklin Park. In order to answer those questions and comments I decided to do a little more indepth research on the history of the park. I wanted to share my findings with all of you who wrote to me on this subject -- those who support lights, those who oppose them, and those who stated that they would be satisfied with lights on Fields Farm as a compromise -- so that everyone has the same baseline information.

When the County purchased the 203 acres of farmland that now constitutes Franklin Park, the land was already surrounded by homes. The County was very sensitive to the concerns of those homeowners and their desire to protect the peace and tranquility of their neighborhoods. In effect, County staff and elected officials acted as if they had a social contract with those homeowners to protect the peaceful and tranquil setting that existed prior to the County’s purchase of that parcel. The history of the planning process, the resultant Master Plan, and the Special Exception Conditions are all consistent with that contract.

After several community meetings and a survey of 9,000 Western Loudoun residents, a Master Plan was produced in January 1992 that laid out the proposed facilities for the regional park, emphasizing that the park would contain both active and passive recreational opportunities as well as cultural/community facilities. Appendix D, page 37, contains a one line entry dealing with the cost to light the ball fields, $260,000 in 1991 dollars not including the cost of engineering. This is the only mention of lights for ball fields in the entire document.

On the other hand, the Master Plan goes to great length to call for vegetative screening and large buffers (up to 200 feet) around the borders of the park to protect the views of the surrounding neighbors. Page 17 deals with the placement of the ball fields and states explicitly that the fields “will be buffered from the passive areas and neighboring residents. From an aesthetic standpoint, the fields are to be placed so their presence will not visually dominate the Franklin Park site.” Although lighting technology has improved so that lights may not be as intrusive as they would have been in the past, they are nevertheless still intrusive and, in my opinion would adversely affect the aesthetics of both the neighborhood and the balance of the park.

It is true that the Special Exception that approved the construction of the Park would permit lights at a future date. However, the Conditions of Approval for the Special Exception adopted by the Barton Board in 1995 and under which any lights installed would operate are extremely stringent. The Conditions state that lights may be installed on the baseball and softball fields, but they must be extinguished by 9:00 PM Monday through Thursday evenings, 10:00PM on Friday and Saturday nights and may not be used at all on Sundays.

There are those who say that, since so many people who are involved in youth sports want lights and they outnumber the neighbors, the will of the majority should rule. As a representative, I believe that one of my duties is to protect the rights of the minority when the situation warrants. I believe that this is one of those situations.

The above rationale led me to propose building lighted ball fields on Fields Farm instead of Franklin Park. The southern portion of Fields Farm is next to industrially zoned land and additional lights there (beyond those that exist now in the industrial park) will not cause the same level of intrusiveness. The county has approved the Upper Loudoun Youth Football League’s proposal to build a lighted football stadium on that portion of Fields Farm as well as the initial construction of other ball fields for the county’s use. I will be asking my colleagues on the Board for funds in this budget cycle to finish those fields and provide lights.

Since the land for Franklin Park was purchased, three separate Boards of Supervisors (the Barton Board (1991-95), the Myers Board (1996-2000), and the current Board), have considered proposals to light the fields. In each case, the Board felt that lights were not a high enough priority given the other significant and serious county needs (such as in education and public safety) to warrant funding (at least $260,000 in 1991 and $800,000 in 2005). Although, as I mentioned above, I am going to ask for funds in this budget cycle to finish the fields at Fields Farm and provide lights, there is no guarantee that the majority of my Board members will agree with me and provide those funds. I do not believe that they would ever fund two sets of lighted fields in Western Loudoun when no more than 16 out of 71 of County-owned or operated fields are currently lighted.

As a final and personal note, there have been rumors that I oppose lights at Franklin Park because I have friends who live next to the park or that I have taken campaign contributions from the neighbors in exchange for opposing the lights. These rumors are absolutely false. I am not friends with any of the neighbors and in 2003 I received one $50 contribution from a resident of Tranquility Lane who lives so far from the park that lights are not an issue for her. As far as I can recall, I have never heard from her or her family on any issue regarding Franklin Park.

I hope this information is useful to all of you and I encourage you to to share this email with anyone you wish.

Best regards,

Jim Burton

Supervisor, Blue Ridge District