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September 25, 2011

Albemarle increasing lobbying effort for new athletic fields

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DailyProgressBy Kurt Walters
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Sunday, September 25, 2011

At the final public hearing for the Biscuit Run State Park master plan, Albemarle County officials issued a self-described “plea” for the state to further consider the inclusion of athletic playing fields.

The nine-month-long planning process has ended with a number of amenities sought by local residents, but not the athletic fields that have the backing of county supervisors, many members of the public and local sports organizations.


Click image for larger version of August 1, 2011
Biscuit Run State Park concept plan

“I would just like for you to at least get this proposal to Richmond, ask for their consideration, and we’re certainly not asking you or the state for [the fields] to be on your dime,” said Bob Crickenberger, Albemarle’s parks and recreation director. “Let it be on the county’s dime, but at least give us the opportunity to speak in favor of this and work together.”

The county’s proposal, conveyed at multiple meetings and in an Aug. 30 letter to the Department of Conservation and Recreation, cites a current deficit of 11 game-quality athletic fields in the area, with that deficit potentially rising to 19 fields within five to 10 years.

Bill Mueller, executive director of the Soccer Organization of Charlottesville-Albemarle, said overuse and lack of “rest” has led to a steady decline in field quality.

“As the executive director of our organization, I can tell you from firsthand experience that the quality of fields is declining,” Mueller said. “It’s bad and it’s getting worse … the use just outpaces the ability to maintain the fields.”

Representatives from DCR have said at previous meetings that state parks typically don’t include such facilities.

“At this time, we are not going to propose the athletic fields as part of the park,” said Janit Llewellyn Allen, a DCR environmental program planner, when the master plan was unveiled last month. “We are not changing our paradigm.”

Biscuit Run State Park is located in Albemarle’s Scottsville District on a 1,200-acre site south of Charlottesville between Route 20 and Old Lynchburg Road.

DCR has touted the inclusion of other amenities as a result of public feedback, including an amphitheater and multi-use pavilion, which were requested by local music and dance advocates. The concept plan for the park also includes areas for cabins and campgrounds; 10 to 12 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking and equestrian uses; and a visitors’ center.

Others, however, argued that unusual amenities were only fitting for a park that arose out of the ashes of a planned housing development. Biscuit Run was originally going to have up to 3,100 homes, an elementary school and “championship” playing fields.

Chris Dumler, a Democrat running for the Scottsville District seat on the Albemarle Board of Supervisors, said the park’s proximity to a population center makes Biscuit Run different from other state parks.

“You don’t have a thousand families a day who want to go out to the Great Dismal Swamp to play soccer,” Dumler said.

The demand for soccer and other athletic fields in greater Charlottesville is evidenced by the volume of public comments received by the DCR. Eighty-seven of the 140 total comments received were in support of athletic fields at the park, far outpacing the next highest topic, equestrian trails, which received 33 comments. Only one resident expressed an opposition to the fields.

Jim Norwood, the Republican running for the Scottsville District seat, attended the last public hearing and said he would support playing fields.

“When I’m elected, I would certainly champion a request to the state for the [athletic field] property allocation,” Norwood said. “I would also feel confident that I could rally the support of the Board of Supervisors for that request.”

At least three current supervisors — Ann H. Mallek, Dennis S. Rooker and the retiring Lindsay G. Dorrier Jr. — have publicly supported the proposal. Dumler also said he would support the proposal if elected to fill Dorrier’s seat.

“I would hope that state-level policymakers would be willing to sit back and listen and say, ‘OK, we’re building a park in your backyard and obviously you have a huge population base here who have paid state taxes for as long they’ve lived in the area,’” Dumler said. “It’s just a matter of giving ’em some elbow, I think.”

The Department of Conservation and Recreation is accepting public comments on the plan for Biscuit Run State Park until Friday. Comments may be submitted to janit.llewellyn@dcr.virginia.gov.



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