County residents gathered at a town hall at Freedom High School auditorium on Sept. 27 to air their concerns about the controversial proposed stadium at Stonebridge at Potomac Town Center.
The primary concerns were traffic congestion and public safety.
Noise, traffic and light near the stadium
"We are gridlocked here," one resident said.
"We're in a very tight space here in the Potomac Club area, where there's a hospital across the street," another resident said.
"If I wanted to live in a stadium, I would live near southwest D.C., not in Woodbridge," another resident said. She said that she bought her expensive condo near the town center specifically because of the town center, but did not support the stadium. "I don't want to live in my car," she said. "If I feel like I'm being locked in my car going from place to place, I don't have a problem leaving the county or leaving the state. People aren't addressing the issue of traffic as it exists now. We have a problem with traffic right now. I spend an hour on Sunday afternoon driving from the District to my house."
Richard Lake with Roadside Development said that density actually enhances traffic.
"The trick is multiple purpose," he said. Traffic on Interstate 95 is a regional issue. But if the development is successful, he said, traffic will go down because people won't have to leave the area to get to restaurants and retailers.
Potomac Nationals owner Art Silber said that the Potomac Nationals team was a business, and if traffic kept people from coming to the games, they would look into adjusting the starting time of the games.
He estimated that 1500 people might come to a game. With about three people per car, that would be about 500 cars. The cars' entrances would likely be staggered, but they would likely all leave together, when the games let out at about 10 p.m.
“We believe, that while no additional traffic is ever something that somebody wants or looks forward to, we believe that the benefits that this will bring to the community will outweight the minor inconvenience," he said.
Silber said that modern ballpark lights glowed, but did not beam lights outwards. Modern speakers were similar in that they aimed noise towards the center of the field.
Public safety near the stadium
One resident raised public safety concerns about the safety of those attending or living near the stadium.
"We've never had a car broken into, we've never had a mugging," Silber said. "The people who come to minor league baseball games are family. We've never had a problem with pedophiles. We will have a playground at this facility."
"We have the ability as a community to put conditions on the special use permit application," Woodbridge District Supervisor Frank Principi said, saying that concerns could be addressed that way.
The commuter parking garage
"The commuter parking garage is a unique asset that is being overlooked here," Lake said, saying that the garage would alleviate traffic. "This is a unique opportunity to get a parking garage for free from the state, and it only comes with the development."
VDOT will be paying $15 million for the construction of the parking garage, VDOT's Prince William County liaison Maria Sinner said.
One resident said that the fireworks at the Potomac Nationals Stadium knocked things off her walls and asked if they were really planning on having fireworks at a stadium near the hospital. She also expressed skepticism that the commuter traffic would be able to leave by the time those attending games arrived.
Prince William Transportation Director Tom Blaser said the applicant would have to demonstrate that there would be spots open in the garage by the time commuters left.
Building a green parking garage
Dr. Jack Kooyoomjian, President of LOCCA, talked about a checklist that LOCCA used to evaluate new developments.
"Weekend traffic can be really bad," Kooyoomijian said. "We live here, and we shop here."
He stressed the importance of green development.
"You take that parking garage, and you look at that, you could build it one more level up, and you could green it, you could go solar, and you could get subsidies for that," he said.
Silber said that he and the developers were "very much aware" of their responsibility to be green.
Following the money
A resident from the Potomac Club development said he didn't think that they had the entire picture.
"The first thing that gave me pause when I heard about this stadium last year was that Principi came and talked to us and said he was against it," he said. "That was last year, and this year, he's for it."
"I'm very concerned about having taxpayer money go into this in the long run," he added. He expressed concern about shoddy developers, and cited the dead end sidewalks all around Woodbridge as evidence.
He also said that the only way in and out to the helipad on the hospital was through the stadium area.
"Our board of supervisors have received a lot of money from these developers," he said. "I'm not saying it's corrupt; people have to run campaigns. There are people on this board that are taking 30, 40, 50 percent of their money from developers, and we are left holding the bag."
He then recommended that residents visit the Sheriff of Nottingham blog and the Virginia Public Access Project to learn more about the finances of local politicians.
Lake stressed that the development was not associated with developers of nearby residential communities.
"These projects do cause traffic, but those problems can be mitigated," he said. "I would argue that my town center will greatly increase the value of your homes. This is the first step, not the last step."
"A lot of the things that you're talking about, we had nothing to do with," Silber told the resident. "I'm paying for the ballpark. I'm writing a check, and that's the way that it's going to work. There's no taxpayer funding here. If you think that I can buy a vote for Maureen Cadigan or John Jenkins or Corey Stewart, you just don't know me. I was one of those guys that had a hot dog job when I first started. I worked my rear off trying to become successful. These kids don't have other jobs, and we are providing them with a job and a work ethic."
"You can't put a dollar amount on quality of life," a resident said. "What is the benefit to the residents of the Potomac Club development? Because we are going to be the most impacted."
"All that I have ever done here is try to improve the quality of life," Silber said.
Fate of current stadium
Another resident said that he didn't think the stadium needed to move because games only filled it to 35-60 percent in games that he had observed.
"We don't have a choice; we have to move," Silber said. "In two years, we lose our ability to move. There was a design error made when the ballpark was built. It was made out of metal. It's the only metal minor league baseball park in the country. But it is rusting. We can't stay there."
Assistant County Executive Susan Roltsch said that Pfitzner Stadium would be reused.
"It's not going to be a lost asset," she said. The county has discussed the possibility of high school games to be held there, but nothing is set in stone.
"Were there any other options? Did anyone consider refurbishing the current place?" one resident asked.
"We've been looking for a new ballpark since the mid-90s," Silber said. He looked in Loudoun County and Fairfax County. He was looking for a stadium that would involve no public money.
"But if I've got to pay for it, and if I've got to cover the bills for it, I have to have accessibility and visibility," he said. "Am I going to tell you that anybody wants this in their backyard? Besides baseball nuts, nobody wants this in their backyard. There is no site that came up as strongly as this one in terms of minimal community impact and maximum visibility. The number of vehicles we will generate compared to the number of vehicles in the area is a fraction of a percentage."
Development still in early stages
Chris Price, the director of the Prince William Planning Department, assured the gathering that the developer would have to demonstrate how they would mitigate the impacts of the development on issues like traffic.
Principi emphasized that the process was still in the early stages.
"The applicant has not filed the paperwork to be considered for what we call a special use permit,” he said. There is so far only a letter of intent between parties.
Once Roadside Development files an official application for a special use permit, it will go before the planning commission and then the Board of County Supervisors, with several public hearings.
“The proposal is a lot like a jigsaw puzzle," Principi said. "There are many pieces that have to come together, and they all have to come together as a whole. We as a community will have a chance to put our fingerprints on every piece of this puzzle. This, i believe, will be an economic shot in the arm for Prince William as this will be a $75 million investment for our community."