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Proposal for Shared Use of Field 2 Goes to FCPA Board Tonight

The Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) Board tonight will consider approving a “memorandum of agreement” with McLean Youth Inc., (MYI) for an eight- to 10-year lease on Field 2 at Lewinsville Park.

It would allow a shared-use agreement between McLean Youth Soccer (MYS) and Marymount University (MU) in Arlington. They would pay $700,000 for artificial turf and improved lighting at the field.

Marymount would play 18 soccer games there in the fall and 16 lacrosse games in the spring, plus practice time.

The agreement would cede to McLean Youth Soccer (MYS), one of the components of MYI, the authority to schedule other groups to play at the field, and charge them fees. FCPA would pre-approve the groups.

Rick Thoesen, Dranesville District’s representative to the FCPA board, said the proposed agreement represents “a quid pro quo. It doesn’t replicate the field in terms of physicality, but it does expand it in terms of usage.” The artificial surface extends playing time by as much as 50 percent.

Thoesen said the agreement represents “a paradigm shift in terms of how we do business that may be replicated across the county as funds become more scarce.”

“That’s exactly why I’m concerned,” said FCPA Board Chairman Winnie Shapiro after she and other board members expressed concern about precedents engendered in the draft agreement.

MYS WANT TO IMPROVE the existing lights at Field 2 at Lewinsville Park, and add new lights at Field 3. Field 2 is closer to the center of the park and its parking lot. Field 3 is closer to residences.

After a hearing last June, the FCPA Board approved the addition of lights at Field 3, which are provided for in the park’s master plan.

MYS could charge for the use of the field and sell products there, with no requirement that it share the proceeds with FCPA, under the draft agreement.

The draft agreement does not require that money be put in escrow to pay for replacing the turf when it wears out.

John Pitts, FCPA’s Director of Project Management, who presented the proposal to the FCPA Board’s Planning and Development Committee on Nov. 6, said Marymount’s practices and games would be scheduled in the morning and early afternoon when public schools are in session, and the field is not needed by MYS teams.

“Marymount University is not really taking away much time” from field use, he said. “They are taking some, however. They are taking some game time.”

KINGHORN SAID MYS offers 3,500 children the chance to play soccer. “We are not-for-profit,” he said. “Little Johnnie and Janie pay their $80 registration fee [to play] and it adds up to a significant amount.” He estimated MYS’s annual budget at $300,000.

“It is in our best interest to provide a safe playing surface for the kids,” Kinghorn said.

Artificial turf is attractive because it extends hours and takes more wear at a particular field without the need for acquiring more land.

“A sod field at Lewinsville Park has a life expectancy of 14 months,” Kinghorn said.

The length of the proposed lease agreement with FCPA, 10 years, “is tied to the warranty” for the artificial surface, as well as financing, Kinghorn said.

To finance its substantial cost, he said, “we are using a partner [Marymount] we have brought to the table.”

“We are providing all of the financial burden. We are taking 90 percent of the risk. We are taking all of the exposure,” he said.

“Per square footage, I don’t know if the county, or anyone else, has spent more money” on playing fields.

“Our mutual interest is more hours for children to play on the fields,” Kinghorn said.

FAIRFAX COUNTY’S DEPARTMENT of Recreation Services (CRS), which is included in the draft of the agreement, withdrew its name from the agreement on Nov. 5, the day before the FCPA board committee on planning and development heard the proposal.

“Since CRS is not involved, we probably would take this field out of what we release to them,” said Pitts. “That is the outcome of their decision: They see this as a relatively dangerous precedent.”

“I thought we were starting with an agreement for MYS to share a field with Marymount University,” said FCPA Board Chairman, Winnie Shapiro. “Why is it now expanded to encompass other institutions?”

“Marymount does not want to be a signatory to this agreement,” Pitts said. “Assigning them use was the only way to make this happen.

“It is a financial-driven project. It is too much for one group to assume alone,” Pitts said.

The additional hours that the field would be available would justify priority use by MYS and MU in any one year, Pitts said. MYS wants to get the field in place before spring of 2003. “If they don’t hit a certain window, some of their partners may not continue to be engaged,” he said.

“This seems to be a fairly big precedent,” said Shapiro.

“I agree,” said committee chairman, Hal Strickland. “This board has to look at this. If we look at other agreements, we have to be consistent. It has to make sense in the business world, as well as what is good for the kids.”

“We’ll save $15,000 a year for 15 years, tops. Then we’ll have to replace [the artificial turf], and that will come back to the Fairfax County Park Authority,” said Tim White, Division Director for Park Operations of the FCPA. “That’s a big-ticket dollar. The savings in maintenance will be eclipsed by the replacement costs.

Although FCPA can sign the agreement without further citizen involvement, Thoesen said he won’t push it through tonight “if my peers on the Park Board are not comfortable, because it could thwart future endeavors of this type.

“It would be a Pyrrhic victory. We need to make sure everyone is comfortable,” Thoesen said. “I don’t represent MYS. I represent everybody.”

“I have been involved to absolutely zero percent [in negotiating the contract. My goal was to see MYS and the neighborhood [association] come to consensus,” Thoesen said.

The two groups have met only once, in mid-August, said Jack Hannon, vice president of the West Lewinsville Heights Citizens Association.

“THIS IS A BACK ROOM deal from which our association was barred by the Park Authority and MYS. This is not any way to manage public property.”

“I get the sense they are not going to open up that lease to any kind of public review,” said Adrienne Whyte of the McLean Citizens Association’s Planning and Zoning Committee.

“I just don’t understand the process. I am just flabbergasted by it.”

“The politicians all make the noise that we don’t have the money to put into field maintenance, so the public-private partnerships are wonderful for us,” Whyte said.

“I don’t know if we are just going to sell our public lands for 30 pieces of silver. If we are, we just have to put them up for the highest bid from the whole region.”

“All of a sudden you are taking public land that is owned by taxpayers, and, due to lack of funding from the FCPA, more and more, you’ve got these unusual partnerships that involve ‘innovative or creative’ solutions,” said Jane Edmondson, president of the Lewinsville Coalition.

“But are they in the best interest of the community?” Do the citizens even know this is happening?” Edmondson said.

“It may be fine. But the problem is we are not dialoging about it.” After the Nov. 6 committee meeting, FCPA Director of Development Lynn Tadlock said FCPA staff would rework the draft agreement.

After tonight, the FCPA Board meets one other time this year, on Dec. 11.