After a 45-minute closed session, the Fairfax County Park Authority on Dec. 11 provisionally endorsed McLean Youth Soccer's proposal to put artificial turf on one of the playing fields in Lewinsville Park. Board members said their unanimous approval of the proposal depends on a decision by the Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ) that the project does not require a public hearing.
Before the vote, the Park Board held a closed-door session with representatives from the County Attorney's office to discuss the possibility that citizen groups might file a lawsuit over the proposal. The attorneys recommended that the board make its approval contingent on the DPZ's decision.
"We have some protection in that we will not be signing the agreement if DPZ determines that a public hearing in front of the Planning Commission is required," said board chairman Winnie Shapiro (Braddock).
MCLEAN YOUTH SOCCER (MYS) wants to partner with Marymount University in Arlington to install artificial turf on Field 2 at Lewinsville Park. The university would pay for half the cost of the project and would be able to use the field a maximum of 300 hours a year for its soccer team's games and practices. MYS would be responsible for the turf's maintenance and would use the field for its events. Artificial turf requires less maintenance and allows for longer playing seasons. The general public would be able to use the field when neither MYS nor Marymount is using it.
"I think this is a very excellent opportunity for a partnership," said Richard Thoesen, the Dranesville District Park Authority board member, whose district includes Lewinsville Park. "In my opinion it creates quantity and quality for McLean Youth Soccer." But Thoesen stressed that he was "very sensitive to the neighborhood."
Neighbors of Lewinsville Park have opposed the project, saying that it would generate new traffic and that increased noise and lights would disturb the community. Residents have also opposed letting Marymount University use Fairfax County land when only a quarter of Marymount's students are county residents. The county mandates that two-thirds of the players on a team that requests county land must be county residents. But teams from outside the region already compete in tournaments in Fairfax County, said Ted Kinghorn, the chairman of MYS.
"We can't forget that [members of] McLean Youth Soccer are residents of McLean and taxpaying citizens of McLean," Kinghorn said.
THE PARK BOARD approved a revised agreement between the county and MYS that would limit the partnership to five years, renewable for another five years. The Department of Community and Recreation Services will also be able to grant at least four hours of prime playing time on the field to other applicants through the county's regular field-allocation process. Marymount University agreed to bus players to the field and to encourage fans to carpool or to take college vans to cut down on congestion. The Park Authority, MYS, the university and the West Lewinsville Heights Citizens Association will also meet annually to address concerns about the agreement.
Shapiro said the working group was crucial to her support of the project, but she said she regretted that the community had not been involved in the process sooner.
"I'm going to somewhat reluctantly support this," she said before the vote.
At-large board member Jennifer Heinz echoed Shapiro's concerns.
"We don't want people feeling left out or that they don't have recourse," she said.
"OBVIOUSLY WE'RE pleased," said Kinghorn after the vote. "We think that we have been a very good partner with the county and with the citizen groups that use [the fields] every day.
"We hope that the citizen groups do not go through with the threat to lodge a suit with the Fairfax County Park Authority," he added.
Unless there is a public hearing in front of the Planning Commission, the turf will be installed this winter so that it will be ready for the spring soccer season, Kinghorn said.
Jack Hannon, one of the McLean residents who has threatened to sue, said he would wait for the Department of Planning and Zoning's decision before deciding whether to push forward with a lawsuit.
"One of the items that our lawyers raised with [the Park Authority] was the failure to follow any of the zoning procedures," he said.
The DPZ will probably not make a determination until sometime next year, he said.
"The game isn't over."