Lamenting Lambeth: UVA proposes sports complex in its place

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Karen Dougald, president of the University Circle Neighborhood Association, says residents were surprised to learn about UVA’s plans to build a softball stadium at Lambeth Field, though the Board of Visitors was scheduled to vote on it at an upcoming meeting. The board deferred its decision to gather more input from the community. Photo by Eze Amos Karen Dougald, president of the University Circle Neighborhood Association, says residents were surprised to learn about UVA’s plans to build a softball stadium at Lambeth Field, though the Board of Visitors was scheduled to vote on it at an upcoming meeting. The board deferred its decision to gather more input from the community. Photo by Eze Amos

On December 7, the UVA Board of Visitors deferred a decision on the construction of a softball stadium at the university’s Lambeth Field—and those living nearby are thanking their lucky stars.

Lambeth Field, also known as the Colonnades, opened in the early 1900s as a stadium for varsity football, baseball and track. Now, it’s used by students and the public alike for UVA-affiliated club sports practices and tournaments, pick-up soccer and lacrosse games, festivals, barbecues, people-watching, sun-soaking and more.

When asked about a potential new stadium, second-year Nate Hellmuth, president of the Lambeth Field Apartments Association Council, says “Many are concerned about the lights and sounds from a sports facility just feet away. …If the university decides to build a softball facility in its current proposed location, the university will have effectively destroyed the quiet community that so many love.”

Hellmuth describes Lambeth Field Apartments, which abut the location of the proposed sports complex, as a “desirable upper-class housing area,” and he says residents are concerned about the loss of parking if the stadium is built. Hellmuth says he’s been told by the university that it’ll knock out their entire parking lot.

“This, to many, is more important than the loss of Lambeth Field,” he says. In comments on an online petition he’s circulating, which currently has 496 student signatures, several people said they never would have chosen to live in that apartment complex if it didn’t have a parking lot.

Students and community members say UVA did not include them in its plans to build the stadium until a month before the Board of Visitors was scheduled to vote on it.

“What a surprise to see what was planned,” says Karen Dougald, president of the Lambeth Field-adjacent University Circle Neighborhood Association, who was invited to a November 1 meeting at UVA by the school’s community relations department.

“The more questions we asked, the more concerned we became,” she adds. Dougald held a neighborhood meeting December 3, just four days before the Board of Visitors was scheduled to vote on the complex. “It was unbelievable that no one with whom we spoke knew anything about this.”

The community shares several of the same concerns as students, including losing access to Lambeth, noise from the proposed facility’s PA system and stadium lighting—but they also worry about the potential for plummeting home values.

“We know real estate values will tumble because you find very few people who want to have a stadium next door to them,” she says, and suggests that North Grounds should be studied as a possible location because it would better follow the university’s master plan and have a lesser impact on neighborhoods.

“We do not want to take away a lovely stadium for these girls,” Dougald says. “We want them to have this, but to put it where they’re proposing, in our opinion, is absolutely the worst scenario.”

UVA architects Alice Raucher and Michael Joy attended the University Circle neighborhood meeting, as did softball coach Joanna Hardin, former athletics director Craig Littlepage and spokesperson Matt Charles.

Spokesperson Anthony de Bruyn says the university will soon begin a feasibility study and will consider alternative locations for the softball stadium, but a presentation shown to the board at the December 7 meeting says the proposed location would take advantage of existing parking and bring varsity sports back to Lambeth Field.

The current softball field is at The Park in North Grounds, which is a remote location with limited room for expansion, according to the presentation.

“The university remains at the beginning stages of this project and we continue to engage in active dialogue with student residents and our neighbors,” he says. UVA does not need city or community approval to build on its own property.

University Circle resident Martin Kilian says he believes UVA will take the community’s opinion into consideration. The board’s recent decision “gave everybody a little time to collect their breath,” he adds.

This is not the first university project that has drawn neighborhood ire. The Emmet/Ivy parking garage, which was dubbed the “1,200-car monster” by the Lewis Mountain neighborhood, faced fierce opposition—to no avail. The garage opened in 2003.

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