County Board Directs Manager to Develop Options on Field Capacity

Published on September 19, 2017

  • Chooses not to light Williamsburg/Discovery fields at this time

  • Options for increasing field capacity to be developed with CIP

  • Decision follows commissions recommending broader study of field lighting

The Arlington County Board has directed the County Manager to develop options for increasing the County's field capacity as part of the Fiscal Year 2019-2028 Capital Improvement Program (CIP). The Board's action at its Saturday, Sept. 16 public meeting means that the synthetic turf fields on the Williamsburg Middle School/Discovery Elementary School campus will remain unlit for now.

"The Board asked the Manager to assess options to find the best way to meet the serious need for more field time," said County Board Chair Jay Fisette. "Arlington is growing, and so is the number of people who want to play field sports. We need to prioritize sites for converting fields from grass to synthetic turf, lighting grass fields or both. The consideration of options does not change the timeline for adding capacity as we had to wait through the Capital Plan development and public vote on the bonds in November 2018 regardless. Lights at Williamsburg Middle School campus remains an option."

The Board's action came after the Planning Commission said that better guidelines were needed for when it is appropriate to light Arlington's public playing fields, and that other options for increasing playing hours on fields should be explored; the Parks and Recreation Commission said that the question of lighting the Williamsburg/Discovery fields should be deferred while other options are explored; and a working group that studied the question of lighting the Williamsburg/Discovery fields split on whether it was appropriate.

The Board voted unanimously to renew the use permit for the campus with no further Board review and to direct the Manager to initiate a study to considering amendments to the Zoning Ordinance to permit light poles above 68 feet in the S-3A Special District. Williamsburg, and most other County schools, are in S-3A Special districts. The Board also directed the Manager to bring the Board, as part of the FY 2019-2028 CIP, tiered options to achieve increased field capacity (either turf conversion, lighting or both), including Williamsburg Middle School relative to other facilities which are proximate and accessible to areas where the planned users reside.

In its motion, the Board said that "relative" should be understood to mean cost chiefly, but should also include the field lighting criteria to be adopted as part of the Public Spaces Master Plan that includes consideration of the key considerations for evaluating potential field lighting from Section IV of the Williamsburg Field Working Group Final Report.

To read the staff report on this item, view the agenda for the Sept. 16 Regular County Board Meeting. Scroll down to Item No. 53.


Discovery Elementary School, 3600 N. Harrison St., originally was planned to have natural grass sports fields with irrigation. In September 2013, the County Board decided to install lighted synthetic turf fields on the campus, which is shared with Williamsburg Middle School. At the time, the Board directed the County Manager to initiate a public process to evaluate the impacts of lighting the fields. The process was to explore whether the increased field usage allowed by lighting the fields could be mitigated enough to avoid undue adverse impacts on residents whose properties abut the fields and those living across from the campus.

Williamsburg Field Site Evaluation Work Group

In July 2015, the County Board established the Williamsburg Field Site Evaluation Work Group, made up of residents, civic association representatives, sports club representatives and other stakeholders. The group was charged with leading "a robust community process to evaluate whether to light the Williamsburg synthetic fields."  In February 2017, the group submitted its final report. The report presented two views: one open to lighting the fields and the other opposed.

County expanding installation of turf fields

In response to the County's growing population and growing demand for field playing time, Arlington has followed a policy of converting grass fields to synthetic turf where possible. The durable synthetic turf fields allow virtually unlimited play. The County now has 15 synthetic turf fields, all of which are lit, except at Williamsburg/Discovery.  A grant from the Arlington Sports Foundation will help the County convert a grass softball field at Gunston Park to synthetic turf — adding nearly 880 new possible playing hours to the popular field.

Related press releases: County Manager Recommends Lighting Williamsburg Fields