Fairfax County boasts more than 800 athletic fields available for community use, according to the Fairfax County Park Authority. At none of them would it be unusual for a team with a permit for the field to arrive and find it already occupied.
On April 6, FCPA recommended changing park regulations in an effort to address “ongoing field abuse, intimidation, and also general disruption of permitted use by unpermitted use.” The amendment to an existing park regulation would require a field permit for any gathering of 20 or more people, including spectators, a reduction from the current 40.
FCPA will hold a public hearing on the proposed change Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in room 941 of the Herrity Building at 12055 Government Center Parkway in Fairfax.
"We were requested by the Athletic Council, who were requested by many organizations who use our fields, to reduce the number of people allowed on them without a permit," FCPA Public Information Officer Judy Pedersen said. "It’s been a lengthy and public process in terms of vetting this."
FCPA accepted email comments on the proposed change through April 25. In the 94 pages of responses that resulted, the overwhelming majority either supported the amendment or advocated allowing even fewer people to congregate without a permit.
Two major themes dominated the thinking of those in favor of a reduction. First, that unpermitted users create wear and tear on the fields without contributing money to their upkeep, as organized groups with field permits do. Second, that permitted groups, particularly youth groups, feel intimidated or threatened when trying to get an unpermitted group to leave.
"This change will also make enforcement a little easier," Pederson said. "We need to encourage 'walk-on' teams to register with Neighborhood and Community Services. And we continue to build more fields. The desire is out there. I'm fairly confident this won't stop families who want to play touch football on our fields. That’s neither the aim nor the result of this regulation."
Eight email respondents, out of more than 100, were against the proposed change. They cited issues of fairness and the spirit of pick-up games.
The rule change would also be adopted by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, which will hold its own public hearing on the matter July 21.
While the regulation governs all FCPA and NVRPA fields, the discussion has focused on soccer. The Fairfax County Athletic Council voted July 21, 2010, to reduce the gathering requiring a permit to 10, "primarily based on a Fairfax County Soccer Council recommendation," according to a Dec. 2, 2010, letter from Athletic Council Director Christopher A. Leonard to FCPA Chair William G. Bouie.
At an April 6 public meeting hosted by the Department of Neighborhood and Community Services, the majority of comments came from representatives of youth soccer leagues. NCS eventually recommended the change to 20. There are 22 players in a standard soccer match.
"There's some applicability of that number to the size of that particular sport," Pedersen said. "We're being responsive to comments from a lot of different quarters. This is a compromise number that was agreeable to the most people. We still have a hearing, and people are welcome to come and speak to the issue."