Alexandria City Council settles turf war over Simpson Park

Simpson Park overhaul plans (image via City of Alexandria)

Eugene Simpson Park is getting a set of synthetic turf fields as part of a broader overhaul with city leaders saying the added usability outweighs the detriments of the artificial grass field.

At a meeting this past Saturday, the City Council unanimously voted in favor of a large-scale renovation (item 20) to eugene Simpson Stadium Park (426 East Monroe Avenue).

The project will involve the renovation of the two baseball diamonds at the site and accessory buildings, an expansion of the parking lot to add 16 new spaces, and more walkways and paths. The new project will also relocate the basketball court to a spot next to the dog park.

The public comment included a wide range of criticisms of the project, from concerns about heat build-up on the synthetic turf to frustrations that added pathways at part of the park will cut down on the natural open space.

“The current proposal appears to suggest having a very large oval sidewalk system… [that] would carve up open spaces used by kids and dogs and families into an unusable area,” said nearby resident Sebastian Norton. “Based on that, we would oppose only that aspect of the renovation.”

“I’m not sure how many of you have been on the fields during the summer but they exceed 120 degrees,” said Brian Collins. “I’ve heard the proposal increases playability, but I haven’t heard any mention of loss due to heat.”

Others said they were excited about the benefits of a synthetic turf field.

“We strongly support the field improvements,” said Alexandria Little League President Sherry Reilly. “I specifically want to call out the need for synthetic turf at big Simpson Field. The lack of big fields in the city means the entire Alexandria baseball community uses the two current fields almost non-stop. Having only two big fields shared by all the baseball organizations as well as the collegiate team means that we use the fields constantly during spring, summer and fall baseball seasons. It is a crazy game of Tetris trying to fit all of these organizations onto our two big fields.”

The City Council voted unanimously to approve the plans to overhaul the park.

“It’s a park that’s well-loved by the community,” Mayor Justin Wilson said. “I get [the tradeoff] about turf. I’ve been to many, many soccer games on artificial turf. It stinks and nobody wants to sit on turf, but it is also a balance with playability.”

Other concerns were raised about locating a basketball court immediately adjacent to a dog park, but staff said a four-foot concrete wall and higher fencing will be installed to separate the two and the city could add “sound attenuating screening” to block out sound and reduce opacity between the two parks.

City Council member Kirk McPike said the 2% loss of space for the dog park in the new project will become more of a noticable issue if the basketball court becomes a nuisance for people and canines in the dog park. McPike said it’s something the city will have to monitor.

“I hope staff will stay in touch with the community that uses that park to see if we need to do any further mitigations,” McPike said, “though as my aide texted me to note: there are no rules against a dog playing basketball.”