By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Thursday, June 4, 2009

In March, Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris called for a study  to determine how the area’s athletic fields were being used. He did so at a

campaign press conference

in which he asked for Council to amend the master plan for the western half of McIntire Park in order to preserve the two softball fields. The master plan, which was adopted by Council in May of 2008, calls for the conversion of those fields to rectangular fields to support soccer, lacrosse, and other sports.

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On June 1, 2009, Norris formally asked City Council to amend the master plan to preserve the two softball fields. Norris said he originally agreed to the conversion of the fields because he thought lights would be installed at the softball fields at

Darden-Towe Park

in order to extend their hours of operation. Darden-Towe Park is jointly operated by the City and Albemarle County.  However, the Board of Supervisors opted not to take any further action after opponents of plan made their views known during a public hearing on October 8, 2008. The item never appeared before the City Council..

The Master Plan for the western half of McIntire Park, adopted in May 2008, calls for a rectangular field to replace two existing softball fields

. Click for a larger version

“I for one would like to see us make a commitment to the softball community that we’re going to keep the softball fields at McIntire Park and we’re going to work with the recreational leagues, as a whole, to inventory our recreational field space,” Norris said.

Norris sought a motion to direct staff to develop language to turn the field allocation study into reality, but his motion also sought to protect the existing softball fields. Councilor

David Brown

was skeptical of connecting the two issues.

“The idea was that we would study field needs and then based on the needs we would decide what to do,” Brown said. “There’s a part of me that feels we’re putting the cart before the horse for City Council to make a decision tonight to change that plan and then study the field needs.”

Brown claimed 80% of the people who play softball at McIntire Park are not City residents, and that the City’s youth might be better served by rectangular fields which can be used for a variety of different sports.

City Manager

Gary O’Connell

said a regional assessment of fields would need the involvement of Albemarle County and the University of Virginia.

“The reality is new fields are more than likely going to have to come in a larger area than what’s in the City because there aren’t any fields left,” O’Connell said.

Brown asked if it were realistic to get the County involved. Norris said he had spoken with Albemarle County Board of Supervisors Chairman

David Slutzky

(Rio) who said the County would participate as long there was no cost involved in hiring an outside consultant.

Brown said he was mostly concerned that the softball fields at Darden-Towe would be preserved and that the issue would then die out, without any study. He held out hope that softball could expand in Albemarle County.

In the end, Council’s motion was to have Parks and Recreation staff study both issues independently, but concurrently. Their findings will first go to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board before coming back to City Council later this year.

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