Planning Commission recommends approval, City Council to vote on permit for backyard ‘Field of Dreams’ in Blackwater

Derrick and Nicole Howell are seeking a conditional use permit to continue to operate a baseball field they built on part of the property of their rural home in Blackwater after an adjoining property owner raised concerns. Howell is seen in this file image pitching to a youth baseball player in 2015. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

VIRGINIA BEACH — The City Council is poised to determine whether to grant a conditional use permit that would allow for the continued use of baseball field that for years has operated in the yard of a rural home and is known as the Blackwater Field of Dreams.

The Planning Commission on Wednesday, April 14, voted to recommend approval of the permit. The City Council is scheduled to vote on the permit application this evening during a meeting at the Virginia Beach Convention Center.

The lack of a permit for an outdoor recreational facility on an eight-acre parcel is at issue after an adjoining property owner complained about matters such as noise and traffic at the field, used by two youth travel teams for practices during the week and games on about 16 weekends per year.

Stewart Altman, who lives next door to the field, told the Planning Commission he moved into his home in 2008, when there were empty lots on either side of him.

“There was peace, tranquility,” he said. “There was minimal traffic on Blackwater Road. I loved the house. I loved the fact that I could go out in the backyard, and it was peace and quiet. You could hear the birds sing.”

After a few years, a house was built on the adjoining lot, and the lots shared a drive. He said he wanted to have traffic cut down on the drive. Derrick and Nicole Howell, who own the property where the field is located, have blocked access from the shared drive to keep game traffic out, and now there is only access only from Blackwater Loop. During the meeting, Altman said that change came only recently.

“This ball field has been in operation since 2014 with no permit,” Altman said, who added that his family will be forced to move if the permit is granted.

Attorney Eddie Bourdon, representing the Howells, told the Planning Commission the field is a community resource with little impact on its neighbors, and there is wide support for it. Some people wrote letters, and Bourdon submitted a petition with more than 2,000 signatures.

“The field built in 2014 has been a learning ground for young boys – nine, 10, 11 and 12 years old,” Bourdon said during remarks to the Planning Commission. Some young people were there in their jerseys.

“There are only two teams that use this field and they’re coached by Derrick Howell and one of the other parents,” Bourdon said. “And the field is used on Mondays, Tuesday, Wednesdays and Thursdays for practice. It’s not generally used on Friday. … Games are held on the weekend. They travel. They’re not all here.”

Planning Commission Member Robyn Klein said she empathized with Altman’s situation and hoped something could be worked out by the property owners.

“You don’t move out into the middle of the country to have the noise that you would get in the neighborhoods,” she said, adding she understood the Howells also want to use their property. She was the only commissioner who voted against recommending approval of the permit to the City Council.

Don Horsley, a member of the Planning Commission and a farmer from Blackwater, spoke in support of the application and made the motion to recommend approval.

“The people in the area are saying, ‘What’s going on with the ballfield? Who would object to kids playing ball?’” Horsley said.  Horsley recommended removing recommended conditions about banners on the field and a cap on vehicles that can be parked there, while also noting that the shared drive will no longer be used for the field.

“I do think that this is a good project, and it’s got the support of most all of the people down there,” he said.

Planning Commissioner Don Horsley has spoken supportively of the request for a conditional use permit for the Blackwater Field of Dreams, and the Planning Commission last month voted to recommend that the City Council approve the request. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

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