Squeeze play: Saving McIntire dominates Towe light talk

Supervisor Ken Boyd meets with Bob Fenwick of the Save McIntire campaign after the community conversation Thursday night.

In a packed ballroom at the Elk's Lodge last night, what was supposed to be a "community conversation" about lighting Darden Towe's softball feilds turned into a protest against the City's plan to tear up McIntire Park's softball fields. And the message from both softball enthusiasts and Albemarle County residents rang loud and clear: "If it's not broke, don't fix it."

The uniform sentiment continued throughout the two-hour event organized by Board of Supervisor's Chairman Ken Boyd, indicating that some Charlottesville and Albemarle residents are not ready to give up the fight for McIntire Park's softball fields.

"We got a diversity of opinion tonight," Boyd said after the event. "The County didn't get involved in the YMCA because we didn't realize the impact it would have on the County. I just wish the City had consulted with us."

After Boyd made some opening comments expressing a desire to hear from the community on the issue of lighting Darden Towe's three softball fields– a historically contentious issue– the conversation was quickly dominated by residents and softballers demanding an explanation for what they see as an intrusion of the YMCA, a private, non-profit entity, on public park land. As part of the proposed YMCA project at McIntire Park, the City wants to turn the two softball fields there into a single, rectangular, multi-use, artificial-turf athletic field. As a result of that loss, lighting Towe, which was always meant to be a day-time park, was now being considered.

"The City made a deal with a non-tax paying entity, which will cause both the City and the County to expend huge amounts of money," outspoken Towe neighbor Clara Belle Wheeler (pictured right) said. "Just because the City cuts a deal with the Y, doesn't mean the County has to bend over and work twice as hard to raise taxes for lighting Towe."

Various City and County residents agreed. One man demanded of the city's assistant director of Parks and Recreation, Brian Daly, "We have money to rip up softball fields, and that's okay? We're tearing up fields to make more fields?" Meanwhile, another city resident warned, "We're going to live with this mistake for an eternity."

Boyd tried to make amends. "Anything is reversible," he said to the crowd. While Daly attempted to explain the city's master planning process, asserting that the various public meetings were well-advertised, County director of Parks and Recreation Pat Mullaney put it in blunt terms for the crowd.

"The Y would provide the same programming we'd provide, but we'd pay no on-going operating costs," he said. "I wish there was a way to keep McIntire's fields, but there's a growing need, which the Y would deal with in an efficient way."

Despite the assurances from the City and County, the softball players in attendance were aghast, and made allegations that they were not informed about plans to tear up McIntire's softball feilds.

"We had no idea, no say, no opinion– it definitely wasn't well-advertised," a young softballer yelled out. "If we knew about the public meetings, we'd be there. If it's not broke, don't fix it! If you tear those fields down, please let us play somewhere."

At the same time as the meeting, die-hard McIntire softballers played through the rain.

Which brought the conversation back to Towe. According to Boyd, the conclusion he drew from the event was that his community was looking for space.

"The neighbors don't want McIntire to be destroyed and they don't want lights at Towe, and the softball players don't want McIntire destroyed, but if they can't have McIntire, they do want lights at Towe," Boyd said. "We'll lose two fields for daytime play– there'll be a net loss of two fields overall."

Several Towe neighbors expressed their love for "dark skies" and peppered Mullaney with questions about Towe's potential lights. If lit, the three softball fields would need fourteen light poles between 70 and 80 feet, with six to seven fixtures per pole. The County has been considering several types of athletic field lighting, including a shielded fixture and a "soft" lighting fixture popular on the West Coast. According to Mullaney, the cost of lighting the fields would range between $500,000 and $700,00, split 70/30 between the County and City.

"You can't design a better park to put lights on," Mullaney says optimistically.

Yet the reality of the loss of McIntire rang clear throughout the conversation: County residents and land would ultimately be affected by the City's master plan. Although attendees were relentless in their accusations that the City was trying to fix what is already a stable Charlottesville tradition, i.e. softball culture at McIntire, City Director of Parks and Recreation Mike Svetz pointed out that the growth of the region ultimately defined the future of the parks.

"We ultimately have to figure out how to manage our growth," Svetz says, acknowledging that the master plan still has yet to determine its budgetary impact for the City. According to Svetz, the master plan's price tag is dependent upon the Y's size, a decision not yet made by the Y's capital campaign.

As for lighting Darden Towe, the almost-forgotten purpose of Boyd's conversation?

"City Council would make a decision based on the public," Svetz says. "City residents and softball players would like to see the fields lit, which would maximize use of existing park space, which goes back to managing growth."

With fiscal issues– the County has recently projected a $4 million deficit– the threat of traffic congestion, and the contentious impact of lighting what has historically been a daytime park, Boyd and the rest of the supervisors admitted they have "a lot to consider" before making a decision on Towe. The County will hold a public hearing for the lighting of Darden Towe's softball fields on October 8; the City has pushed back their public hearing from October 20 to November 3.



The city wants to rip up perfectly good lit fields and then have to spend $500,00 - $700,000 to light new fields?

With a 4 million dollar deficit wouldn't leaving things in place save a big chunk of that money? What sense does that make... that is just craziness!! Who is responsible for all of this. They need to be replaced.

Whatever the city tries to say about their public involvement process, it didn't work. It is clear from all of the backlash that there was NOT proper awareness raised for this process.

Sure, they may have said a public forum will be held to discuss the YMCA at McIntire park, but no reasonable person would infer that such a meeting would bring in to question whether or not the fields would stay or go. A headline reading "Should McIntire Softball fields be demolished? Public Forum this Thursday" would have created an amazing amount of public feedback.

In light of the recent uproar the only responsible thing to do would be to stop now, and revisit the issue.

The fields at PVCC are lit, but seem to be underutilized. They might be part of a solution, though not the WHOLE solution.

Something stinks here. The City mouthpieces keep saying, as in the article ââ?¬Å?I wish there was a way to keep McIntire’s fields," but the fact that the softball fields are doomed really has nothing to do with the Y, and everything to do with somebody's desire to have a shiny new artificial turf field. After all, the plan isn't to use the softball field space for parking, or for the Y's building, but instead to replace softball fields with the turf field.

Does anybody think we need a turf field that costs us 2 softball fields, plus some amount to build the turf field (I'll guess $500,000) plus $700,000 to light Darden Towe?

(If there's really a screaming need for a new turf field, why not just put turf down at some other city school or park, like Washington Park, or CHS?)

Lets consider the statistics and be rational. How many people from the community take advantage of the baseball fields for only a few months out of the year?

Not as many people that would enjoy and benefit from the healthy and affordable lifestyle that a Y would bring to this community.


Between 2000-2500 people over a 6 1/2 month period ( ~ April 1st to ~ October 15th), broken into a spring/summer and fall season.
Not exactly a few people for a few months.
Also, a team which plays the entire year (both seasons) currently pays $975.00 to do so- so softball players "pay as they go" quite substantially for the privilege of playing.
And- this is not just a gaggle of out-of-shape, weekend-warrior middle-aged men: this fall alone, there are 5 all-women's teams as well as 59 co-ed teams competing in addition to 72 all-men's teams. Each team needs 10 persons to play, with 20 being the maximum number of individuals allowed per team; if we average that to 15 persons per team, then we can estimate that there are
2,040 individuals playing softball this fall alone.

"ââ?¬Å?The Y would provide the same programming we’d provide, but we’d pay no on-going operating costs,” he said. ââ?¬Å?I wish there was a way to keep McIntire’s fields, but there’s a growing need, which the Y would deal with in an efficient way.”" Do government employees ever get tired of lying? Tearing up the softball is not "providing the same programming" in any way, shape or form.

This is the typical BS from Parks & Rec that many of us have come to expect. They pretend to include the public yet ignore what the public wants. They leave key details out of their plans and then spring them on the public at the last possible minute. Every single one of their projects in recent years has proceeded the same way. Wake up people, Parks & Rec probably intended to steamroll us from the very beginning. Their contempt for the opinions and wishes of the residents of Charlottesville has been duly noted at every meeting.

Svetz LOVES asphalt and buildings. He has no use for trees, or green space that just sits there and does nothing he considers productive. Exhibit A: the new Y. Exhibit B: the "new" but definitely-not-improved Meade Park.

It is my recollection that the placement of the Y was determined sometime between the middle of April and Council's vote in may. Thus, the public had less than a month to find out that the ball fields were definitely going. Why there was such a deadline placed on the city to decide on the contract to the Y was never clear. I suspect the whole thing was rushed just for the purpose of not having any public discussion beyond the required public hearing. What a wonderfully transparent council. I also believe that Mike Svetz was hired specifically to spearhead this "centralized recreational facility" movement away from the nieghborhood recreational model.

If the county really cared about recreation for its citizens, it would put a baseball/softball facility on the land of the Albemarle Place development. The community need athletic fields a lot more than another shopping center. I guess they would just prefer to blame the city instead.

webster 52, that is private property and neither the city nor the county has the right to put anything on it without the owner's permission.

I posted this on cvillenews.com and no one could answer, so maybe someone here can.

The current plan calls for 3 out the golf courses 9 holes to be ripped up as part of this process. So, yeah, there’s a pointless 6 hole course left. Why not knock out the entire course, put the YMCA over there, and make them pay for the land grading, especially since they got such a sweetheart deal anyway? Then you have the softball fields, the multi-purpose fields, and a brand new YMCA all on one place.

Everyone wins. So why isn't this a possibility? I'm sure there's a reason.

Chad Day, the city has led us to beleive that the land has already been leased to YMCA. I'm learning not to believe anything that it says, however.

Chad Day...

Not sure what plan you are talking about, but the Master Plan for McInire park does not involve the golf course...it involves the 3 to 5 acres occupied by the softball fields and the area where the picnic shelters are.

In fact, if you look at the documents that the city has online about it its quite interesting....how quickly this became such an ambitious project....

When the YMCA first responded to the City’s RFP for a new facility at McInire in October 2007, they only wanted to lease an area occupied by one of the two softball fields. By December 2007, the lease include the entire 3-5 acres in the area of the softball fields and noted ââ?¬Å?In no event shall the Leased Property include the existing picnic shelters, playground area, concession/restrooms building, parking areas or McIntire Little League baseball." In May 2008, after the city completed its Master Plan for McIntire Park, the Y had been moved to the area where the picnic areas are and the City had added the rectangular field that is to replace the softball fields. As mentioned before in the Hook's coverage, the Y really has nothing to do with the loss of the softball fields....in fact, under the current plan, the Y and the softball fields could co-exist if it were not for the City's plan for the big rectangular field.

You can check out what things are going to look like here: http://www.charlottesville.org/Index.aspx?page=2255

Go to the bottom of the page and there’s a pretty detailed rendering”Š.wow, lots of parking. And a bicycle bridge over the train tracks

Dave McNair

Bizarrely, the golf course has just won an award. See:
"The Meadowcreek Golf Course garners nationwide recognition"
at (for now, no archive): http://www.wina.com/page.php?category_id=355

The loss of golf holes mentioned above is from the Meadowcreek Pkwy project of course. Everything else (besides the pool) is across the tracks.

The McIntire park golf course is losing holes, not the Meadowcreek course at Pen Park. Chad Day makes a very good point. What use is a six hole course?

Thanks, I was wondering how it could win an award. Pen Park's course won the award, which makes more sense.

Why does a YMCA need to be in park anyway? You wouldn't normally be building buildings in the green spaces of a city...