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Softball stadium planned for Lambeth Field stirs controversy

Proposed project causes concerns over issues affecting surrounding neighborhood

<p>The design for the softball field would place home base by the railroad tracks and the first base line would run parallel to the railroad tracks. &nbsp;</p>

The design for the softball field would place home base by the railroad tracks and the first base line would run parallel to the railroad tracks.  

Newly-formed plans to construct a softball stadium for the women’s varsity softball team at Lambeth Field have proven to be controversial, as some students and local residents say they believe the University has excluded them from the planning process for the proposed project. The University’s Board of Visitors will be discussing the plans — which are in the early stages of development — at a meeting Thursday. 

In interviews with The Cavalier Daily, several residents of the surrounding neighborhood on University Circle and student residents of Lambeth Field Apartments have voiced concerns about what they say has been a lack of consultation with students and the local community in the University’s development of these plans. 

Charles Marsh, a Religious Studies professor who lives on University Circle, said the decision to construct the stadium at Lambeth Field excluded input from students and the community, and also failed to address important issues that would affect the surrounding neighborhood if constructed.

“We are frankly aghast by the news and scrambling to understand how such a consequential decision was made without student involvement, community dialogue, or studies evaluating noise, lighting, parking or property value impact,” Marsh said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “The stadium will undoubtedly cause great disruption to residents of Lambeth [Field] Apartments and the surrounding neighborhoods.”

The current plans propose that the bleachers and dugouts would be placed against the southeast end of the Lambeth Field Apartments and the outfield would be located near the University Circle neighborhood. Additionally, the parking lot at Lambeth Field would be replaced with a green space.

The design would place home base by the railroad tracks and the first base line would run parallel to the railroad tracks. 

Some students living in the Lambeth Field Apartments have expressed frustration with the potential implications of constructing a stadium at this location.

“I think for many Lambeth residents, one of the reasons they like Lambeth so much is because the space is there,” said Matthew Healy, a second-year College student and Lambeth resident. “If there’s no Lambeth Field and no parking lot, I don’t see why anybody would live at Lambeth anymore.”

Healy said that he, along with four other Lambeth residents and a senior resident in Lambeth, met with University officials involved with the project last week.

“I went into the meeting thinking they were going to ask how we were going to feel about it and just trying to get our perspective,” Healy said. “They did listen to our input and concerns, but at the same time it’s kind of late to listen to people’s concerns when they already have a plan scheduled to present it to the Board of Visitors for a vote.”

Approximately 30 University Circle Neighborhood Association members met Sunday afternoon with University officials to further discuss the decision to build the softball stadium. 

University Circle residents were presented with a feasibility study conducted over one month ago, which concluded the softball stadium would be able to fit in the Lambeth Field area. No details of the feasibility study were released. 

We asked repeatedly for details, and the only answer we could get was the feasibility study indicated that a stadium could be built there,” Marsh said.

Marsh said in an email to The Cavalier Daily that he and his neighbors asked multiple times for a cost estimate to construct the softball stadium but the University Architect would not provide a figure. The Cavalier Daily reached out to the University Sunday evening for a cost estimate, but did not receive a figure by press time. 

Marsh said the feasibility study will be presented to the Board of Visitors Thursday, which will inform a decision of whether to move forward with plans to begin to design the stadium.

University officials at the meeting told residents a donor — whose name was not given — is providing the funds to construct the stadium in order to move the softball field closer to Central Grounds, according to Marsh. 

Members of the Athletics Department, the Office of the Architect and University Community Relations met with leaders from University Circle and Venable neighborhoods Nov. 1 to discuss the construction proposal and hear their concerns for the first time.

In an email to The Cavalier Daily, University Deputy Spokesperson Matt Charles said that the purpose of the meeting was “to provide an overview of the proposed project and to hear their concerns so that the University could incorporate this feedback into the development of the design.”

The University claims it is still finalizing plans for constructing the softball stadium and intends to take steps to address concerns regarding light, sound and traffic — some of the main issues students and neighbors have raised.

“The University is only in the beginning stages of site planning and still needs to select and hire a consultant for the design,” Charles said. “We will be using state-of-the-art, full cut-off lighting, and a research-focused and limited audio system. A traffic impact study will also be conducted.”

Karen Dougald, president of the University Circle Neighborhood Association, has lived in the neighborhood for 42 years with her husband, a former architecture professor. She said the members from the University she met with in November did not ask for her approval of the stadium construction and instead presented the plans they had for the project.

“It kind of took me by surprise because I didn’t know they had gone through such finite types of things that they were getting down to doing,” Dougald said. “It almost sounds like no matter what we say this is going to be done.”

Dougald said she was unconvinced by the University’s assurance that the stadium would not cause noise issues for surrounding neighbors.

“I had to tell them I didn’t believe them. I had to see for myself,” Dougald said. “I need to experience what it’s like.”

Marsh said he believes the University disregarded the needs of students and neighbors who would be affected by the construction of the stadium.

“We have never seen a U.Va. administration proceed with a building project without any concern for student or community input,” Marsh said. 

Marsh said he hopes the University will reconsider the project to construct the field. In an email to University Architect Alice Raucher and others, Marsh said a failure to do so would likely harm the University’s reputation.

“I cannot think of a worse idea, or a more invasive and disruptive plan, for university-community relations,” Marsh said. “As an alum of U.Va. and member of the faculty, I ask you to reconsider this plan, if indeed you have already approved it, before it becomes a public relations disaster.”

Charles told The Cavalier Daily in an interview on Friday that he has met with representatives from both sides of the construction plans, including Raucher and neighborhood residents. 

The University originally had plans to renovate the existing softball field, but those plans changed when the renovations would not allow the team to host major collegiate championships.

“It turned out that even with the renovations we had anticipated, we could not get that softball field up to competition level, which means we would never be able to host the ACC,” University President Teresa Sullivan said in an interview last Friday. “We would never be able to host the NCAA.” 

Charles also said that stadium nuisances should be mitigated with new advancements in technology such as directional lighting, and utilizing the Culbreth parking garage so there wouldn’t be people parking in neighborhoods. 

The construction of the softball field will be discussed in the upcoming Board of Visitors Building and Grounds Committee meeting Thursday. Additional neighborhood association meetings have yet to be scheduled. 

Bryanna Miller, a fourth-year College student and the student member of the Board of Visitors, did not respond to a request for comment sent to her Sunday afternoon.

Correction: This article previously misattributed the quote about the proposed facility being able to host the ACC and NCAA tournaments to University Deputy Spokesperson Matt Charles. This article has been updated to note that University President Teresa Sullivan said this.