At the heart of the matter is the draft 2001-2002 update of the 1997 Joint Athletic Facilities Development Program (JAFDP), which is a partnership between the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation and the Seattle Public Schools.
In response to heavy team usage of playfields, the JAFDP calls for lighting the fields seven days a week until 11 p.m., which would allow more games to be played, particularly in the fall and winter when it gets dark by late afternoon. But neighbors of the fields object to field light glare coming into their homes and the additional traffic and noise that will be generated by extended hours of play.
Eight priority ball field projects have been identified in the JAFDP for the Queen Anne and Magnolia neighborhoods. Only two of those projects are noted in the JAFDP as having funding.
Three public workshops were held in September on the JAFDP. The park commissioners are scheduled to discuss the JAFDP and make a recommendation regarding the program to the Seattle City Council at the commissioners' meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 14 at100 Dexter Ave. N.
Members of the public can sign up before the meeting to speak immediately after the meeting begins. Each speaker is limited to three minutes. The JAFDP discussion is scheduled on the meeting agenda for 7:15 p.m.
A burgeoning of organized sports and a lack of playfields to accommodate them has sent the parks department and the Seattle Public Schools scrambling to find a way to provide enough places to schedule games.
Field use in Seattle has shot up from 62,237 scheduled hours in 1975 to 112,079 hours in 1999. The playfields are often so booked up with games that there is little time left for practice. Teams can wait years to get on the schedule to play at night during the week. Or they can end up using playfields outside Seattle.
Before 6 p.m., school and youngsters have first dibs on use of school fields, which means adults won't get much use from an unlit field.
While building new sports fields at Magnuson Park will help, the number of organized sports teams continues to grow.
The lack of fields, organized sports advocates contend, also marginalizes new sports such as lacrosse.
Renovations cost less
Since building new playfields is costly, the parks department and school district are instead looking for ways to make their existing playfields more usable with less expensive renovations.
Synthetic surfaces, favored by the parks department in place of the existing grass fields, would allow more play because the fields would no longer need time to recuperate. Currently grass fields must often be put out of use for several winter months to allow the natural surface to recover.
Lighting the fields would allow play late into the night filling the demand created by teams. The only problem is many of the playfields are surrounded by residential neighborhoods that will be impacted by the light and extra traffic and noise. Playfield neighbors also are concerned that if the playfields are fully booked up with team sports, neighborhood children won't be able to use them.
Queen Anne resident Denise Derr, who lives adjacent to the Queen Anne Bowl playfield just off Third Avenue West, argues that paying for the renovations privatizes playfields, which are paid for by all taxpayers. She contends that the improvements benefit primarily adult teams and not children or neighbors. Anyone not on a team who wants to use a playfield will be squeezed out by the increased scheduling, Derr says.
Organized sports proponents argue that, as taxpayers, they have just as much right use the fields.
Let there be light
Organized sports advocates contend that modern lighting reduces the shedding of light beyond the field far more effectively than the current lights. The question is whether the new technology provides sufficient reduction in the light spillage.
Field lighting can be quite bright. The lights previously installed at Seattle playfields throw light for a substantial distance, a problem for neighbors who don't want the light flooding into their homes at night.
Bringing in taller light poles would minimize the problem because those lights would be aimed straight down at the field, according to officials with the school district and parks department. Lights currently at Seattle playfields throw light for a substantial distance.
Some members of the Seattle City Council's land use committee have asked that the standards be required for the lights and that the neighborhoods receive mitigation.
Neighbors are concerned about the noise from spectators and players that will accompany hours of play extended into the evening.
Sharon LeVine, who lives close to the Queen Anne Bowl, has said that it acts as a natural amphitheater, projecting sound into the surrounding community, particularly when spectators are cheering during games.
Parks officials have told the Board of Park Commissioners that they will provide options for the commissioners to review regarding turning off the lights at certain park-owned fields earlier than 11 p.m. Seattle Public School has already planned to shut down the lights by 10 p.m. at four new athletic facilities that are under construction:
Some organized sports advocates at the Jan. 24 public hearing did say they would be willing to quit half an hour or 45 minutes earlier than the proposed 11 p.m. time. Seattle Residents for Fair School Lighting, which was formed by neighbors in North Seattle, wants a much earlier cutoff, as early as 8:30 p.m.
According to parks officials there is supposed to an entirely separate public-involvement process once funding is obtained for field lighting at the Queen Anne Bowl and before the lights are installed. That is when designing to minimize impact on the neighborhood and determining the hours would occur, according to parks officials.
Some neighbors would like to see more specific parameters for mitigation and hours of play put in place now, as part of the JAFDP. The most recent draft of the JAFDP contains no methods for mitigating noise and states that minimizing impacts on surrounding neighborhoods will be done "to the extent possible given site considerations, resources, etc."
The Parks Department is preparing a report on ways to maximize the use of its fields, which parks officials estimate should be completed by late spring. They also anticipate having a draft of proposed lighting standards ready for review by the park commissioners by early March.
A copy of the revised draft JAFDP is available at http://www.cityofseattle.net/parks/meetings/jafdp/jafdp.htm.
JAFDP priority projects
Magnolia Elementary School: A youth sports field with artificial turf, soccer and T-ball facilities, landscaped areas, irrigation, fencing, a basketball court, a bicycle path and areas for jogging.
West Magnolia-South: Replace existing lights using funds from ongoing major maintenance program.
Queen Anne Bowl: Lighting, cinder-track renovation, ADA access, and remodeled restrooms.
Interbay Playfield: Field surfacing conversion including baseball, softball, soccer, lighting, backstops and site furnishings.
Northwest Magnolia Playfield: Improved drainage, irrigation repair, turf renovation, field lighting, backstop and goals, and long-term goal of installing artificial turf.
Queen Anne Playfield: Installing artificial turf, replacing lights, and other field and site improvements.
Smith Cove: Youth soccer field with artificial turf, grandstand, restrooms and concession stands, maintenance and storage facilities, fencing, landscaping, and furnishings.
Interbay Stadium: Artificial turf.[[In-content Ad]]