Loudoun County Halts Jenkins Park Lighting Plan

Loudoun County has canceled plans to light the athletic fields at Scott Jenkins Memorial Park near Hamilton, following opposition from residents nearby and the owners of Ellmore’s Garden Center across Rt. 7.

The decision also marked two unusual occurrences in the county boardroom—supervisors prepared to vote against the county government’s own application, and the withdrawal of an application moments before it would have seen a deciding vote.

The adjoining Harmony Park & Ride is already lighted.

County staff members sought to add lighting to five fields, including three softball fields, one baseball field and one rectangular multipurpose field, with 23 light poles from 60 to 70 feet tall. But to do so, they would have to modify one of the conditions from the board’s original vote to establish the park in 2010, which forbade lighting the fields—conditions the county government put on itself for the county-owned property.

Comments from the public online and in public hearings unanimously questioned or opposed the plan, citing concerns over light pollution in the county’s rural area. Proponents of the plan argued new lighting technology dramatically reduces the amount of light that would spill off the property.

Some of those people voiced their opposition again at the board’s Sept. 6 meeting.

Joyce Harris, whose family owns a more than 800-acre farm southwest of the park protected by a conservation easement, said again voting against lights at the park would help guard the community in the future. And she said, “good sportsmanship means that the results of a game are respected by both teams.”

“A losing team shouldn’t ask to keep playing again and again and again until they achieve a different outcome. Your no vote will help protect the health, safety and general welfare of residents today and provide additional protections for us tomorrow,” she said. “Please keep our rural areas dark.”

Barbara Ellmore, of Ellmore’s Garden Center, also repeated her opposition—the original condition of approval was in response to concerns that lighting on the fields would affect the nursery, especially the light-sensitive poinsettias for which the nursey is particularly known. And Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy Executive Director Michael Myers said light pollution also leads the deaths of birds, pollinators and other wildlife.

“The future of Loudoun is bright, but that doesn’t mean we have to light up the night,” he said.

A majority of supervisors, while thanking and complimenting staff members’ work, appeared ready to vote down the lights, and got as far as making a motion to deny the application and discussing it.

“This particular area, it could definitely use lighting, except of the fact that it does really collide in a lot of ways with the community that surrounds it, and is quite frankly in a lot of ways out of character for western Loudoun,” said Supervisor Caleb E. Kershner (R-Catoctin).

“Western Loudoun County—whether we want to say it or not—it is different, and people don’t move to western Loudoun County for a suburban experience,” said Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large). “They move there for rural experience, and sometimes that means pitch-dark at 9 o’clock.”

But supervisors especially noted what they considered an agreement with the community made during the original approval in 2010.

“The lights are very high-tech and they can probably do what we need them to do. I think for me the issue was never the lights,” Randall said. “For me, the issue was, we said what we would do or wouldn’t do to the community.”

“In 2010 we made the deal with the community—kind of a handshake with the community—that we were not going to put lights on the field,” said Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge). “To me, that’s a handshake that we can’t go back on.”

“From the nearby residents’ perspective, they’ve got to be internally screaming ‘just stop it,’” said Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg). “I am persuaded that when we committed earlier to no lights, that is the commitment we should keep.”

Several supervisors also expressed heartburn about voting against a county application. Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) said while he believed the light pollution could be mitigated, and was undecided on the application, the board “should not ever be in this position.”

“The board is about to deny an application from our own staff. That doesn’t make any sense,” he said, also pointing to the amount of county staff time spent on the application since it was filed in 2021.

He and Vice Chair Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling) said something went wrong in this application.

“Something broke down in this discussion, and I would really say, when we’re starting capital projects of any kind, there has to be buy-in from the board early on, with supervisors and community,” Letourneau said.

“I do think there probably should have been some better coordination with the county residents before it got to this point,” Saines said.

With supervisors set to vote, County Administrator Tim Hemstreet pointed out he could simply withdraw the application on behalf of county staff if they preferred—and did, forestalling a vote.

It would have been an unusual step for supervisors to vote against an application to allow a project listed in their own Capital Improvement Program, which they most recently approved in April—and as the heads of county government, effectively voting against their own application to themselves.

It was also unusual for a legislative application to be withdrawn moments before a vote. Those applications go through a lengthy process before arriving to the county dais for a vote, including staff meetings, agency referrals, public hearings, possible work sessions and a vote at the Planning Commission, and finally, a public hearing and vote at the Board of Supervisors. Typically, if a legislative application is going to be withdrawn, that has happened long before it reaches a final vote.

Hemstreet said the county staff would not bring the application back without direction from the board, although some supervisors also asked about possible future discussions about further mitigating the impacts of lighting the fields.

3 thoughts on “Loudoun County Halts Jenkins Park Lighting Plan

  • 2022-09-07 at 12:29 pm
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    It would have been a desecration if the supervisors went back on their word & illuminated those ball fields. How could anyone trust them again? “A man is only as good as his word,” as the saying goes. Shame on Loudoun County staffers for wasting so much time on the lighting scheme. C’mon staff. Get Your Act Together!

  • 2022-09-07 at 1:18 pm
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    “The board is about to deny an application from our own staff.” Thinking for yourself isn’t really that hard. You should try it.

  • 2022-09-07 at 1:26 pm
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    At least the majority of them said they were going to get it right.

    Letourneau would pave his own yard if his HOA would allow it. I do wish someone with actual conservative ideals would run against him.

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