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Votes

Parents Take Both Sides for Lights

Opinions about a proposal to add lights and synthetic turf to a soccer field at Lewinsville Park included hopelessness, disgust, and optimism at a Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) hearing last week. Marymount University in Arlington County would pay some $500,000 to install the turf at a field that McLean Youth Soccer (MYS) maintains under the FCPA’s Adopt-A-Field program.

In return, the University wants to play soccer and lacrosse games at the park this fall.

FCPA’s master plan for the park provides for lights, but requires a public hearing before they can be installed. Putting in synthetic turf is an administrative decision which does not require public assent.

Last week, FCPA held a hearing on whether to add lights to a second soccer field at the park -- one is already lighted -- and a baseball diamond.

Several soccer parents, some accompanied by children in soccer uniforms, spoke in support of the proposal.

MYS, a private, non-profit youth sports league administered by McLean Youth, Incorporated, said synthetic turf would double the hours the field would be available for play.

Adding lights would made the fields available for more playing hours to add value to Marymount’s investment.

“I honestly don’t understand why anyone is against this,” said Phil Gentry, of Georgetown Pike in McLean, an Arlington dentist, father of four, and MYS soccer coach “since just after Sept. 11. Before that, I never had time for this sort of thing,” he said.

Two of his children, Elizabeth and Andrew, and one of their friends, Kendall Banks, stood at the podium with him in their soccer uniforms.

“What the world needs more of today is getting along,” Gentry said.

“This isn’t a gas station, a (?) night club, a 7-Eleven, a homeless shelter, or a nuclear waste dump. It’s a soccer field.”

Several of the children play on travel teams, which have three practices and visit other area teams.

Other parents of children who play on MYS soccer teams, however, opposed the proposal, saying it would exacerbate existing problems with lights, noise, and parking in surrounding fields.

Liz Rothrock of Hamil Hill Court said Field 3 at Lewinsville Park “is our view from every window on the back of our house.” Those windows offer a view of people who “retrieve things, get water out of your spigot, and urinate in your yard,” she said, all things that currently happen “with only one lit field, during eight months of play, and at events for only school-aged children.”

She said extending the season, playing under lights, and opening the fields to college-aged players would make matters worse, suggesting the Park Authority instead add lights and synthetic turf to Field 2, which is closer to the park entrance, parking lot, and portable toilets than Field 3, which is proposed for the synthetic turf and lights.

Several homeowners complained that players urinate in their back yards adjoining the soccer field rather than walk a short distance to use the temporary toilets. Lewinsville Park does not have a bathroom structure.

Eileen Larsen of Westbury Way asked that use of the fields at Lewinsville Park be “denied to any group from outside the county” and that FCPA postpone any decision on the synthetic turf until meetings with surrounding citizens. “I don’t understand why the neighbors were not included” in planning meetings among FCPA, MYS, Marymount, and Dranesville Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn (R), she said.

“My family fought for this park” when it was established in 1978 rather than being developed as townhouses, she said, suggesting instead that MYS parents “teach your children to treat others as they would like to be treated.

“Is it fair play to use power, influence, and money to force residents to accept conditions that will compromise the quality of their lives?” she asked.

“Sometimes, there are limitations on what we can have. Perhaps McLean Youth should learn that lesson,” Larsen said.

Steve Sulzer, president of the West Lewinsville Heights Citizens Association and parent of MYS soccer players, asked the FCPA board to “overcome the rock concert mentality” and seek balance between field use and homeowners’ concerns.

“We live in a densely populated, crowded neighborhood,” he said. “There has been no evaluation of the intensity of use” of other fields.

His suggestions include:

• Use Field 3, rather than Field 2, at Lewinsville Park for lights and turf;

• Hard-wire the lights to shut off at 9 p.m.;

• Ban public address systems and food concessions at the park;

• Study parking and expand inside the park;

• Establish buffers on the east and west sides of the park that abut residential areas;

• Oppose lighting the 90-foot baseball field at Lewinsville Park;

• Install permanent restrooms at the park;

• Meet with homeowners before taking such proposals to the county level.

Bob Bellair, travel commissioner for McLean Soccer, said “There will be no parking problems with respect to these lights. There is a little bit of inconvenience,” he said, asking that residents “meet us halfway, because we desperately need this field.”

Kerry Stackpole of Nathaniel Lane, whose two children play MYS soccer, said he opposes the lights because of “the absence of detailed plans and support.

“Given the density of neighborhoods around the park, lights are really a problem. I have concerns about the spillage,” he said.

“If one of those 100-foot light poles fell, it would land in my yard,” he said. “There is no clear demarcation between private land and public park.

He also said FCPA’s policy, which allows lights to stay on until 11 p.m. is invasive to neighbors. “My kids also deserve quiet enjoyment, including the ability to sleep in their bedrooms,” he said.

“I can hear the [park’s] PA system as if I am listening to a radio in my house. There is not a track record of the county being a good neighbor,” he said.

Lewinsville Park also “lacks basic infrastructure.”

“I don’t think the park is ready for prime time. There are no bathroom facilities. If you light three fields, you can bet all three fields will be used,” Stackpole said.

“There is not enough parking, and the streets are inadequate. I just don’t think this has been thought through.”

MYS director Ted Kinghorn said the proposal from Marymount is a creative use of park property that would yield maximum benefit with minimum impact.

He said the University would pay 50 percent of the cost in return for 20 percent use of the field. Fields in McLean are already used at 135 percent of their capacity, he said, and the soccer organization continues to grow.

Halladay Field at Spring Hill and Lewinsville roads, which is expected to be ready for play this fall, represents the first new field in McLean in eight to 10 years, he said. It is owned by the Fairax County Board of Supervisors.

Rick Thoesen, Dranesville District’s representative to the FCPA board, did not attend last week’s hearing because he was out of the country.

Thoesen, who will assume duties as mayor of Herndon on July 1 after winning the town election on May 7, is part of a delegation from Herndon that is reaffirming the town’s sister cities' affiliation with Runnymede, England.

Fairfax County Park Authority Board Chairman Winifred Shapiro (Braddock) and members Joanne Malone (Providence), Frank Svajda (Mason), Gwendolyn Minton (Hunter Mill), and Hal Strickland (Sully), were present for the hearing. They will decide the questions of whether to add lights, install a synthetic turf surface, and permit the exchange of facilities to Marymount University in return for funding the turf.

The record will stay open for public comment through July 8. FCPA’s planning and development committee could vote on the proposal as early as July 10, then make a recommendation to the full board. It could vote on the proposal at either of its meetings this month, July 17 or July 31.