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Votes

FCPA Board Agrees to Light Up Lewinsville Park

Thoesen sets meeting between MYS and citizens on Aug. 21

August 8, 2002

The Fairfax County Park Authority Board last week voted unanimously to install lights at two ball fields at Lewinsville Park in McLean: one rectangular soccer field and one 90-foot baseball diamond.

The board on July 31 unanimously approved the “project scope” for fields at the park, which Fairfax County purchased in 1977 after McLean citizens protested a plan to build 130 townhouses on 37 acres that were then a private estate.

It will cost about $300,000 to light the fields, said Judy Pederson, Fairfax County public information officer. Presently, no funding is identified, she said.

“We are going to work with McLean Youth Soccer (MYS) and others to identify a source of funding,” she said.

Still unresolved are several other issues that the proposal for lights raised: whether synthetic turf will be installed at the park, who will pay for it, and whether Arlington-based Marymount University will play 16 home games in soccer and lacrosse at the park this fall as a quid pro quo for paying half the cost of synthetic turf on one of the soccer fields at the park.

“None of that has been finalized,” said Pederson. “We were only obligated to have a public hearing on the lights.

“[Dranesville Park Authority Representative] Rick [Thoesen] did thank everybody for their support, but I think all of us recognize that nothing comes without controversy,” she said.

“THE BOARD APPROVED the lights based on the fact that the master plan called for a public hearing based on the requirement that the user should prove their need, and mitigate the impact on the immediate neighborhood,” said Thoesen.

“We separated the lights from the neighborhood concerns about field use, parking, traffic, use of the artificial turf, and the location of such use to an agreement that will have to be signed between MYS and Fairfax County Park Authority.

“To help facilitate that agreement between MYS and the Park Authority, I wanted to be sure that the neighborhoods as stakeholders could participate,” he said.

“I have invited stakeholders from both sides — MYS and the neighborhoods — to meet with me on Aug. 21,” he said.

“We are working towards an agreement between the community and MYS, such that those handshakes and understandings can be captured in a written agreement between MYS and the Park Authority,” he said.

“I DEFINITELY THINK there should be meetings with the citizens,” said McLean Citizens Association (MCA) President John Foust. "I think they are coming together to work it out.”

Foust said he had offered to sit in on the Aug. 21 meeting if it would help smooth conflicting opinions about how the park should be used.

“I think it’s a very significant issue for the neighbors,” Foust said. “It’s also an important development for MYS. What has been lacking is sit-down communications, and working through the problems.”

In a letter to Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn dated April 4, McLean Youth Soccer proposed to light the field and add artificial turf in a partnership with Marymount as a way to create more playing time for youth soccer teams based in McLean.

On April 11, FCPA staff proposed a schedule for the project, showing a reduction of the public comment period after the public hearing from 30 to 14 days.

Under the proposed schedule, the artificial turf would be installed by Aug. 24.

JACK HANNON, AN ATTORNEY who is vice president of the WLHCA, said the group met with Mendelsohn about park issues.

“We hope at least to have a seat at the table and begin discussing some of the very important parameters of how all these new facilities will be used, and how it might harmonize with the needs of the working families that live around this park,” Hannon said.

In June, Hannon filed a request under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act to request copies of correspondence Mendelsohn has had on the proposal since March.

“With all the expedition being shown to this proposal,” wrote Hannon in his FOIA request, “there was no effort to coordinate the proposal with the residents of the community adjoining Lewinsville Park or with their citizens association, the West Lewinsville Heights Citizens Association, before setting the issue of new lights for public hearing” on June 27.

Among the papers that the FOIA produced are notes from a March 5 meeting among Mendelsohn and representatives of MYS, including MYS chairman Ted Kinghorn and field coordinator Fred Mittelman. At that meeting, according to the notes, “MYS presented Stu with a letter to ask the county to co-partner with MYS and Marymount to re-surface field #3 in Lewinsville Park.

“MYS and MM would fund the artificial surface and asking [sic] Park Authority to purchase and install lights,” wrote Mendelsohn staff member Linda Lammersen in a March 5 “note to the file” that she later sent to Lynn Tadlock, the Park Authority’s director of development.

The lights are the only part of the proposal that had to go before the public for a hearing, as required in the 1977 master plan for the park. Installation of synthetic turf, and the agreement with Marymount, can be executed administratively, say FCPA officials.

SEVERAL GROUPS OF CITIZENS have protested the short notice for the public hearing. The first citizens to be notified got letters on or after June 5 before the hearing on June 27.

Written comment was accepted through July 8. Frank Crandall, chairman of the McLean Citizen Association’s committee on the environment, parks, and recreation, said the record should have remained open for 30 days after the public hearing, rather than 10.

In testimony from about 27 of 100 citizens at the June 27 hearing and 93 written comments received later, neighborhood residents complained about the potential for more traffic and noise associated with added field use and asked for relief from problems they already have, including a persistent problem with park users urinating in their back yards and shrubs. Lewinsville Park has temporary toilets but no permanent bathroom structure.

Some citizens also raised questions about the approval process. Neither the MCA nor the WLHCA was included in discussions about the Marymount proposal, says Crandall.

“When you begin to encroach on the immediate neighborhood surrounding a park, you are impacting them with a reduction in their quality of life and their property values. One might reasonably ask, if one constitutes, in the words of a recent Supreme Court decision, ‘a public taking.’ There is a very delicate balance to be struck,” he said.

“The political will in Fairfax County has been made manifestly clear that [the lighting] will be done,” he said. “But you must not do it at the expense of the immediately surrounding neighborhoods.

“No one denies we need facilities to address the needs of our youth sports programs, but we must not do it by riding roughshod over the immediate neighborhoods surrounding the venues for these programs,” Crandall said.

“I also find it shocking, that Stu’s office had known about this for some time, and had not informed MCA,” he said. “This is not acceptable.

“These things, in the MCA area at least, usually go through a large amount of citizen review and comment,” Crandall said.

“There is serious question as to whether the Park Authority, by discussing the possibility of giving exclusive rights to using such a field, may be violating its own policies. No private organization shall have any exclusive rights over the scheduling a field.”

Fairfax County’s policy on community use of fields requires that “At least two thirds of the participants must reside in Fairfax County; rosters including names, addresses, and telephone numbers and proof of residency for adults must be submitted to [the Department of] Community and Recreation Services upon request.”

The Park Authority has policies allowing collaboration “with other public and private sector entities in Northern Virginia in order to maximize existing public facilities for community recreation purposes ... to effectively develop and maintain recreational facilities throughout the county.”