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New Athletic Fields on Horizon for Sully

More than 30,000 children in the local area play youth sports but, for years now, they've had a tremendous shortage of fields on which to play. However, that may all soon change.

Plans are already afoot for at least 57 new fields — which could benefit both the Chantilly Youth Association (CYA) and the Southwestern Youth Association (SYA). It's because of prior Fairfax County land acquisitions, plus some possible exciting future uses of that land.

In 1998, the year of the park bond, Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) and Sully District Park Authority representative Hal Strickland discussed the problem. Frey told Strickland that they needed to make additional athletic fields one of their major goals in Sully.

"He said the athletic organizations here are always trying to help themselves, so it was time we stepped up to the plate and helped them," said Strickland. "But we recognized early that, without a land base, there wasn't much we could do. So we decided to push very hard to get whatever parkland we could for ballfields."

For the past four years, they've worked on land acquisition. Strickland encouraged the Park Authority Board to buy land in Sully for sports-complex-type facilities, and it agreed to do so. Three major land purchases followed.

* In March 2000, the county Board of Supervisors purchased the 838-acre Hunter property, just northwest of Cox Farms, for $12.7 million. The Park Authority acquired 70 of those acres for ballfields.

* In June 2000, the Park Authority bought the 100-acre Quinn property, between Old Lee and Braddock roads, for $3.5 million.

* In mid-January 2002, the Park Authority completed its purchase of the Stephens property, at Pleasant Valley and Braddock roads, spending $660,000 for 40 acres.

The purchases meant 210 acres total available for ballfields at a total cost of $5.4 million. (The 70 Hunter acres would have cost some $1.2 million if bought separately). "It's been a team effort," said Strickland. "Key people in the community worked hard to make this happen."

Besides himself and Frey, also instrumental were Sully District Planning Commissioner Ron Koch and the West Fairfax County Citizens Association Land-Use Committee, both of whom supported buying the land for ballfields. Said Strickland: "I think there's going to be enough here for everybody because we're going to bring a significant number of fields on line in a reasonable amount of time."

Noting that it took "a lot of political courage" for his fellow Supervisors to approve those and other land purchases totaling 1,800 acres in western Fairfax County — the majority of which will be preserved and used only for passive recreation — Frey said the county was "very farsighted" in acquiring that much property.

"This is the Occoquan Watershed, the source of our drinking water, so there's a county interest in seeing that it stays mostly open," he explained. But besides the beautiful stream valleys and rare hardwood forests that will be protected from development, along came some land for athletic fields.

Major League soccer team D.C. United already has its headquarters in Chantilly and is looking for a long-term training facility in Fairfax County. The Quinn property has water, can be sewered and will have easy access from Route 28. And the county transportation plan calls for the upgrading of Old Lee Road there, from two to four lanes, from Willard to Pleasant Valley Road.

Strickland and Park Authority staff have met several times with D.C. United and, said Strickland, "They're seriously interested in the Quinn property. Most of their players live out this way, but they currently practice in downtown [Washington], D.C."

He said the team is considering construction of a training building and two, premier rectangular fields for practices. Local youth could use these fields for tournaments, and D.C. United would hold clinics for these young athletes, so everyone would benefit. The deal is still under negotiation, but Board of Supervisors Chairman Katherine K. "Kate" Hanley (D) has expressed her desire that D.C. United remain in the county.

"In concept, I certainly support D.C. United developing practice fields for them and for Fairfax County players to use, as well," she said Monday. "We are short soccer fields, and D.C. United has been a good corporate citizen here. They've been involved in the community, and I look forward to a partnership."

Frey, too, hopes something can be worked out. "Major League soccer is incredibly popular and is here to stay," he said. "And it's a wonderful opportunity to get the club involved in youth sports clinics."

However, in the long run, Strickland has his eyes on an even bigger prize. "We'd like to get Quinn in the future to become a top-notch, Level 1 [with lights, parking, restrooms and irrigation] sports complex with 12 fields," he said. "And we hope D.C. United would assist us in bringing in the infrastructure and utilities for the other 10 fields — mainly rectangular." In fact, back in September 2000, the Park Authority drew up conceptual plans of such a complex.

"There's not enough money today to build it all," said Strickland. "But we have the opportunity in the 2004 park bond referendum — if it's OK with the Board of Supervisors — to request funds to do whatever's necessary to complete [the fields at] E.C. Lawrence, Centreville Farms and Quinn to give Sully three Level I parks."

Still, more practice fields are sorely needed. And, since they don't require lighting or irrigation, the Planning Commission has just granted the Park Authority permission to build interim, practice fields on the Quinn property. "I'm pleased, because it gets kids out on additional practice areas this spring," said Strickland.

The Park Authority has already built a large parking area there, plus an entrance road to the property, off Old Lee Road. And it's identified and mowed four large, rectangular practice areas — the equivalent of eight fields. Both CYA and SYA have requested to use them, and the Park Authority will make the determination. And both groups agreed to maintain and upgrade these fields.

"We put a lot of money into buying land, so it limits the amount available for field development," said Frey. "So it'll require the partnership plus sweat equity of the local youth clubs stepping up to do their parts."

Strickland also expects 15 additional practice fields to be ready for use on the Stephens property by this fall. The land was already sod, so fields just have to be marked off. And to avoid taking away any of that land for parking, 10 acres of the adjacent Hunter property to the west are earmarked for this purpose.

The Park Authority doesn't currently have funds allocated to build either the parking lot or the entrance to the property, which would be next to the parking lot, off Braddock Road. But Strickland said both youth groups have shown interest in building them, in exchange for use of the fields.

At the same time, on the remaining 60 Hunter acres — on both sides of Braddock Road, next to the Loudoun County line — the Park Authority hopes to create 15 more practice fields in the next 18 months. Altogether, it means 38 new practice fields — eight on Quinn and 15 each on Stephens and Hunter.

Agreeing about the "dire need for additional playing fields in the western part of the county," Sully District Planning Commissioner Ron Koch said the county needs to continue keeping an eye out for future sites appropriate for fields.

"One thing we can say for sure is that the county's not producing any more land, and we only have a limited supply suitable for the uses that we need," he said. "So we've got to stay on our toes and keep trying to add more to the stock that we'll need in the future."