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The Roanoke Times (Virginia)

 

It started with the monotone blast of a vuvuzela.

The wobbly blare of the crude horns, popular at soccer matches, rattled Pamela Smith from her sleep Sunday morning in her apartment in Roanoke's Countryside neighborhood.

"It scared me to death. I didn't know what was happening," said Smith, 35.

She soon knew why: hundreds of youth soccer players, and their families, had arrived in her neighborhood for the first major tournament hosted on new soccer fields at Countryside, just completed by the Roanoke Star soccer club as its home facility. Some of the fields are just across the street from Smith's place at the Sterlingwood Apartments.

The Kroger Cup hosted 80 teams and featured 132 games on multiple sites — with more than 90 of those games played over two days on fields at Countryside. A tournament that size can add nearly $1 million dollars to the local economy over two days, organizers say.

Smith and some of her neighbors saw it as mainly a headache.

She used her phone to record video of the parking and traffic snarl along Highland Farm Road and posted it to Facebook. Likewise, Tuan Reynolds posted a similar video from along Ranch Road, near fields on the northern end of Countryside.

They complained of cars parked erratically, blocking driveway entrances and clogging private parking lots.

The tournament, one of two of its size to be hosted at the soccer fields there annually, was a first test of the facility as home to such an event. Hundreds of on- and off-street parking spaces were available.

And Danny Beamer, executive director of Roanoke Star, said the tournament operated essentially like those the team plays in at similar complexes out of town, but acknowledged the club could improve parking management and is willing to do so. "We want to be good neighbors," he said.

Neighbors, however, claimed vindication for warnings to the city that the soccer fields would generate parking and traffic issues.

"We repeatedly told city council and city administration that the parking and traffic in a neighborhood like ours could not handle soccer tournaments. Of course they will conveniently forget that," said Valerie Garner, president of the Countryside Neighborhood Alliance. "We told you so."

In 2014, the city agreed to lease land in two parts of the former golf course site $100 per year for the Star club to develop fields for practice, weekend games and twice annual tournaments.

The club has spent about $1.5 million on the fields on the way to a total cost of probably $2.2 million, Beamer said, and is still raising money to finish the work. As part of the deal, the city parks and recreation department gets some use of the fields in September and October each year for rec soccer practices and games, though that hasn't happened yet because the fields only recently came into service.

The city discouraged the club from building large parking lots to accommodate tournaments because they would only be needed twice a year and would create unnecessary stormwater runoff, said city Planning Director Chris Chittum. Planners counted about 300 on-street spaces near the fields, not including those in front of private homes. The club ultimately built lots with a total of about 100 spaces.

Beamer and others from the soccer club met with neighborhood groups in the area to tell them about the fields and how they would be used, but that information didn't reach everyone, as neighbors say they weren't prepared for what the tournament presented Saturday and Sunday.

Beamer sent emails to neighborhood leaders before the weekend advising them of the tournament. Still, being the first time for a tournament of this size there, they didn't know what to expect.

"No one told us there would be that kind of concentration," Reynolds said.

Reynolds didn't have parking issues on his street, Mattaponi Drive, but it took him far too long to leave in his car because of the traffic from the tournament.

Smith said cars were parking anywhere they could, in some cases still sticking out into the street.

"They effectively turn the street into a one-way street," she said. Others parked in the apartments' parking lot, she said. She saw players leaving the cars there and going to the fields on Highland Farms Road. Garner heard similar complaints from several neighbors.

Beamer said maps directing people to parking lots, including the old golf course parking lot, and on-street parking - and away from places where they shouldn't park - were sent to all visiting teams at least three times. The map is also available on the tournament website. Signs were posted to warn people away from parking in off limits areas, as well. The club did not, however, hire help to direct traffic.

Chittum noted that many neighborhoods are host to annual or occasional events that block roads — block parties, festivals, parades — and that neighbors should bear in mind that the club is hosting tournaments this size only twice a year.

Roads in the area are wide enough to allow parking on both sides and still have traffic pass going both ways, Chittum said, but if drivers don't park near enough to the curb, flow could be restricted.

If people are parking in private lots, residents or owners should have them towed, he said.

He said the videos by Smith and Reynolds did show people parked improperly on streets and in a field owned by the Roanoke Airport Commission. But those are issues that could be solved with education, he said.

Smith said near her house, the parking and traffic are issues during routine weeknight practices, not just during the tournaments.

"I'm not blaming the parents or the kids. They're told, this is where you play, you go play there," she said. But the whole situation smacks of privilege, she said.

"There is no way they would have this situation in a neighborhood that wasn't predominantly minority," Smith said. It adds insult to injury that the fields are for private use and not open to neighborhood kids, she said.

Beamer, of the Star soccer club, said he understands the frustration, and acknowledged he probably wouldn't be pleased about the same disruption in his neighborhood. But he noted the club has numerous minority and refugee players, underprivileged kids who received a total of $30,000 in scholarships annually, including some who live in the same apartments as Smith.

He's willing to meet with Smith and others to find solutions.

Reynolds and Smith believe with work and vigilance, the parking and traffic issues can be at least made tolerable. They suggested using shuttles to allow off-site parking and people directing drivers to appropriate parking. "I think it can be fixed with a couple of tweaks," Smith said.

Beamer said the club is willing to address concerns and make changes. The tournament was a first experience for them, too, after all.

"We don't want the neighbors upset for sure," he said.

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October 13, 2017
 
 
 

 

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